Although he knows that many find his favorite subject difficult, Humberto Riverón Valdés – bronze medal winner in the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) held in Thailand this past July – notes that the notion is relative.
”For me, gaining a Philosophy degree is one of the most difficult things I could imagine. I have an affinity for Math, I like it,” he states without hesitation.
Humberto has been taking part in global competitions since 10th grade. He participated in the Central American tournament in his first year of high-school. In 11th grade he competed in Latin American and International competitions, during which he received an honorable mention. Despite the rigor of these events, now in his final year of study Humberto’s chances of winning greatly improved thanks to better preparation.
Finally in 2015, he reaped the benefits of a well defined competition and training strategy.
We speak briefly to this 18 year old student who, while at high school preferred “to study Math all day, rather than subjects like biology or history.”
How did you prepare for this competition?
Preparation went well. That’s what we aim for. We hadn’t seen a result like this for a long time. The IMOs in general, even the regional ones, are at a different level, compared to other competitions. Of all the subjects, Mathematics was one of the first to be turned into a competition, that’s why a larger number of countries compete and it’s harder to win awards. We hadn’t won a single medal since 2008, when we secured the silver.
How do these competitions work?
The tournament consists of two exams over two days. Every day you are given three questions, and four and a half hours to complete each test. The questions are as varied as possible, so as not to focus on a single topic. Every exam has a marking scheme of between 21 and 42 points (a minimum of seven points per question). After you finish the exam, it is evaluated by a judging panel which decides on a preliminary mark that is justified by the head of the delegation. When all moderators agree, the student’s final mark is announced and prizes are awarded.
What does this result mean for you?
A lot; when you start to compete at a high school level you enter into a competition movement that’s a lot bigger than that of middle school. I started to train once I entered the high school level. You neverexpectto achieve this kind of result. Although I knew it was possible, I never imagined I would be competing in an international Olympiad, let alone win a medal.
This year’s IMO had special features: firstly it was held in Asia, following tournaments in the U.S. and South Africa. It was a close competition, and has been described as the most difficult of all time. This is relative, but significant.
The Asian countries performed well, but I’m very proud of my medal. It means a lot to me.
What are you going to study now?
I’m going to study Computer Sciences at the University of Havana.
Is Math hard?
Everything has the potential to be difficult. Biology can be the most difficult thing in the world, but so could Math. Anything can be infinitely difficult, but you’ve got to try to your best in your preferred subject.
What do you see yourself doing as a profession?
I would like to stay at the University and continue teaching as part of my social service commitments while also completing my Masters degree, although I still don’t know in what area I want to specialize.
A good year for Cuba in international competitions
Thus far in 2015 Cuba has participated in 10 international specialist competitions: two Central American tournaments (Mathematics and Chemistry); four International Olympiads (Mathematics, Computer Sciences, Physics and Chemistry) while at the time of this interview students from the island are competing in the Latin American Physics, Chemistry and Biology olympiads.
In November Cuban students are scheduled to participate in the Latin American Mathematics Olympiad in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Three 10th grade students from the island competed in the Central American tournament of this subject, two of which won bronze medals while the other received an honorable mention.
Cuba won two gold (one of the students achieved the highest mark in the event), one silver and one bronze medal in the Central American Chemistry Olympiad held in Panama City.
Also in 2015, the island won bronze medals in the International Mathematics and Physics Olympiads, while Cuba’s representative in the Chemistry tournament was awarded an honorific mention.
The next Central American Chemistry Olympiad will be held from July 17-22, 2016 at the University of Havana.