International Mathematical Olympiad: Meet Team Canada

(left to right) Matthew, Dani, James, Alex, Calvin, and Kevin colloborating in their training sessions. Photo: Kim Williams

What are you most excited about heading to Argentina for the International Mathematical Olympiad? They all kind of looked at me with smiles, “The steak,” says James, a veteran of IMO.

It’s not every day you sit down with Team Canada to chat about their training – Team Canada for the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) that is. Here for two weeks at the Banff International Research Station: Matthew Brennan (Toronto), Calvin Deng (Saskatchewan), James Rickards (Ottawa), Alex Song (Waterloo), Dani Spivak (Greater Toronto Area, originally from Israel)), and Kevin Zhou (Toronto), are on their way to Mar del Plata, Argentina to represent Canada. The annual world championship mathematics competition for high school students attracts teams from more than 100 countries and includes opening and closing ceremonies and two days of competition.

When I walked into their classroom for our interview there were piles of paper lying all over the tables covered in equations in dizzying scribbles. Two of the six competitors only use pen for their equations. The green chalkboards that line the walls of the lecture room are no different, covered with white chalk. I’m starting to have flashbacks to grade 12 math class, although this looks much more complex…

Check out this example of a problem they’re training with:

Let a1, a2, a3, . . . be a sequence of positive real numbers.
Suppose that for some positive integer s, we have an = max{ak + an−k | 1 _ k _ n − 1} for all n > s.
Prove that there exist positive integers ` and N, with ` _ s and such that an = a`+an−`for all n _ N.

Team Canada with their instructors, ready to head to Argentina. Photo: Kim Williams.

So how do they train for the IMO? “Every day we do a bunch of practice questions and go to lectures,” Matthew tells me. “The practice questions are usually coupled with a particular lecture. There are six mock tests, one every two days, and each one is four and a half hours long, and it’s three questions.” When I asked  if their families were headed to Argentina to watch them compete I was quickly reminded that “it”s not a spectator sport!”

About Monique Walsh

Monique Walsh is a writer, collaborator, and facilitator. She currently holds the position of Communications Officer at The Banff Centre and is pursuing a Master's degree in Adult Education. Walsh is inspired by the magic of the mountains and the creative people that surround this place.

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