Medal rush as Haibing brings home silver

A James Ruse High student has conquered the world stage with a medal-winning performance in the Maths Olympiad.

03 August 2021
A young man in a suit sits at a desk doing mathematical work.
Image: Rigorous preparation: Haibing Wang, in his Australian uniform, keeps working the angles.

Our athletes are not the only people bringing Olympic medals back to Australia.

James Ruse Agricultural High School Year 12 student Haibing Wang has won silver at this year’s International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), a competition that attracted more than 107 countries and 619 students worldwide.

Haibing was one of six high school students that made up the Australian team, which placed 18th overall and brought home two golds, two silvers, one bronze and an honourable mention.

Like our Olympians in Tokyo, Haibing spent countless hours training for the prestigious event, which was held online due to the COVID pandemic.

“Preparation for the IMO took a lot of time and commitment, which was especially difficult with the workload for year 12,” Haibing said.

“It's also not really an exam that can be crammed, so training was a long-term process that went for months both before and after I made the team.”

Haibing had official training each week with the Australian Maths Trust coach and supplemented that by training in his own time and with a mentor.

He said while it was a heavy workload, his enjoyment of the work made it less strenuous.

“Being passionate about what I was doing definitely made the whole training process very enjoyable,” Haibing said.

Haibing, who was competing in his first Olympiad, said his goal for the competition was to earn a silver medal.

“There were times when I had some doubts about if I would truly be able to achieve this, [but] I had lots of encouragement from parents, friends and mentors that helped me push through,” he said.

“The confidence they gave me played a huge role in my performance. When I first began this journey, no one in my family expected I would come this far, so my family is extremely proud of my achievement.”

Haibing said it was a disappointing the Olympiad was held online but he also felt being at home “probably lowered my stress levels”.

He said the maths in the Olympiad was very different from school-based study, which involved repetition of problems to embed learning.

“In the Olympiad, every question was different, and each had its own little tricks to solve it. You add these tricks into your toolset, but every question needs a different combination of tools, and the challenge is choosing the best tools to use,” he said.

“I really liked the idea of taking the things I already knew, and using them to push the boundaries of what I could do. Starting with a question with no idea of how it works and gradually working away until the euphoric moment when you realise you've solved the problem is an absolutely rewarding experience that you don't find almost anywhere else.

“I think this love for problem solving is what made me choose to take part in the Olympiad.”

Haibing, who is doing Extension 1 and 2 maths for his HSC, said participating in the Olympiad program would help his studies.

“Apart from gaining more mathematical knowledge, I think the most important aspect of the Maths Olympiad is that it has taught me how to approach things I'm not familiar with … which I think will be very beneficial across all my other areas of study as well.”

Haibing said he loved maths because it was critical to all areas of life.

“Everything in our life, from phones to skyscrapers, are built from our understanding of mathematics,” he said.

“But even more powerful than what you learn is the way that you are learning. Learning mathematics has taught me to approach problems logically - to break down a problem into smaller parts that I know how to solve; to critically and creatively piece together what I knew and build something that I didn't; and finally, to take this new piece of knowledge and add it to my own repertoire.

“Learning maths doesn't only teach you maths, it also teaches you how to learn, and that to me is what I truly love most about maths.”

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