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The U.S. high school math olympiad champions of the 1970s and 1980s: Where were they then?

George Berzsenyi writes:

Here is the last issue of the USAMO [math olympiad] Newsletter that was edited by Nura Turner and Tsz-Mei Ko along with a couple of additional summaries about the IMO participants. Concerning the Newsletter, I [Berzsenyi] just learned from Tsz-Mei Ko that it was the last issue.

At the time, I really wanted to do well in these competitions. In retrospect, I think it worked out best that I did ok but not great.

P.S. David Ash informs us that the above-linked issue was not actually the final newsletter:

I [Ash, USAMO winner, 1980] worked with Prof Turner on the final issue of the newsletter that was put out the following year (1990). The contact that I made with John Overdeck (USAMO winner, 1986) in writing that newsletter led, at least in part, to my being hired by D. E. Shaw in 1994. That in turn led to Rich Rusczyk (USAMO winner, 1989) being hired at D.E. Shaw. Rich went on to found The Art of Problem Solving.

11 Comments

  1. David J. Littleboy says:

    Ah, I’m reminded.

    A few years ago, another adult and I, found ourselves shepherding a bunch of MIT undergrads around. At dinner, it was two women undergrads, the other adult and I at one end of an 8-person table. The other adult and I were across from two undergrad women, who were best of buddies and were giggling about in-joke after in-joke after in-joke with their noses glued to their cell phones full time. Obnoxious modern children of the very worst sort. So I kicked them and grilled them as to what they were, what they were doing with themselves, what they were studying, what was important in life. It turned out that they were both math olympiaders, one had represented three different countries, and (I inferred from the math they reported to be currently working on) were probably two of the top mathematicians of their generation. Appearances (well, behavior) can be deceiving.

    • paul alper says:

      David J. Littleboy wrote:

      “Appearances (well, behavior) can be deceiving.”

      And that was my first impression as well. Labeling people is too easy. My second impression was that is a shame that the brightest people, such as these women, can be unbelievably shallow outside of their expertise. Mathematicians have a long history of deviant antisocial behavior. One is tempted to say, “the more famous, the more deviant.” Or, do we just take note of it more among mathematicians?

      • David J. Littleboy says:

        Hmm. My impression of math types has been generally positive. Truly deviant antisocial mathematicians are completely outside my experience. I find them bloody irritating of course, since they sling around numbers and relationships therebetween with far greater facility than I. But that’s jealosy speaking…

      • zbicyclist says:

        “Mathematicians have a long history of deviant antisocial behavior.”

        The Unabomber did skew the data a bit.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      An amusing “appearances can be deceiving” story from when I was an undergraduate (math major, probably 20 at the time — which then was not old enough to vote, so not considered adult) at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor):

      There was a tradition at Michigan to have two performances of Messiah (one Saturday evening, the other Sunday afternoon) at the appropriate season. The (honors) dorm I lived in had a tradition of inviting university bigwigs (Presidents, VP’s, Deans, etc) to dinner after the Sunday afternoon performance. I was part of a group that had prepared a bit of after-dinner entertainment. At the dinner that year, I sat next to a Vice President of the University. We chatted amiably during the meal. At the appropriate time, I politely told him that I needed to excuse myself to prepare for the entertainment, and then asked the housemother (who was at the head of the table) if I might be excused for that purpose. She gave her permission, so I politely thanked her and left the table.

      Some of other girls at the table reported to me later that after I left, the VP asked all the girls at the table what their majors were. He then asked what my major was. They said that when they told him I was a math major, he had responded, “But she can’t be a math major! She doesn’t look like a math major! She doesn’t talk like a math major!).

  2. Radford Neal says:

    “At dinner, it was two women undergrads, the other adult and I at one end of an 8-person table.”

    Umm… Aren’t MIT undergrads usually adults?

    • Andrew says:

      Radford:

      I guess it depends how you define “adult.” For most of the time when I was an MIT undergrad, I was under 21.

      P.S. Where we really need your comment is here. Please help us!

    • David J. Littleboy says:

      When you’re my age, they sure look like children…

      Somewhat seriously, you are of course correct in a legal sense, and many are. But many people in that age group still have a lot of life mistakes to make left in them. And the exuberant enthusiasm of youth illiterate of the slings and arrows outrageous fortune has in store for them can be irritating.

  3. Nick Adams says:

    By co-incidence I just re-read “How not to be wrong” by Jordan Ellenberg. It’s a very readable book yet written by a ‘math(s) nerd’ who I see won the Math(s) Olympiad in Australia (lots of imaginary number questions I presume because Australia doesn’t exist, and inverse functions because it’s down under).

  4. Asher says:

    I looked at the list, I knew five of the participants pretty well at college, four I know for sure did really outstanding work in their careers, two in academia and two in the private sector.

  5. David Ash says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for posting this and it is good to see a copy of the issue of the USAMO that Tsz-Mei worked on with Prof Turner. I hadn’t seen that issue in a long time and it brings back some memories!

    However, I do need to correct the statement that this was the final newsletter that was put out. It was not. I (USAMO winner, 1980) worked with Prof Turner on the final issue of the newsletter that was put out the following year (1990). The contact that I made with John Overdeck (USAMO winner, 1986) in writing that newsletter led, at least in part, to my being hired by D.E. Shaw in 1994. That in turn led to Rich Rusczyk (USAMO winner, 1989) being hired at D.E. Shaw. Rich went on to found The Art of Problem Solving.

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