IOI 2012 Final Report: USA Wins Big!

Dear friends and supporters of the USA Computing Olympiad,

I’m pleased to report that the USA team turned in a fantastic showing at the 2012 International Olympiad in Informatics, held last week in Sirmione, Italy! Below is my final travel diary for the entire event.
You can follow along with my photos here:

The USA team this year included:

Johnny Ho (Lynbrook High School, CA)

Mitchell Lee (Homeschooled, VA)

Scott Wu (Baton Rouge Magnet High School, LA)

Daniel Ziegler (Davidson Academy of Nevada, CA)

Mitchell has just graduated and is now attending MIT. Johnny and Daniel are entering their senior years, and Scott (younger brother of former three-time IOI gold medal winner Neal Wu) has just started his sophomore year. Rounding out the USA delegation this year was myself as team leader and Jacob Steinhardt as deputy leader. Jacob has just graduated from MIT and is just beginning his PhD studies in Computer Science at Stanford under the direction of new Stanford professor Percy Liang, also a USACO alum!


Our journey began on Saturday, September 22. Jacob and Johnny flew to Italy from the west coast, I accompanied Scott and Mitchell from the east coast, and Daniel arrived via train, being in Europe already to visit relatives. Upon arrival in Milan, we were greeted by our Italian IOI hosts and transported to Sirmione, a picturesque town on the shores of beautiful Lake Garda. Students and team leaders all stayed in the Garda Village, a resort village with all the amenities we could possibly need over the week, including a large swimming pool, market, restaurant, meeting rooms for the leaders, and recreational activities for the students. The center of Sirmione was easily accessible via water taxi during our free time. Our meals in the restaurant were outstanding – as a big fan of Italian food, I could probably write several pages just describing the wonderful variety of pasta and other options we had at each meal, but to keep things short,
I’ll simply say the food was some of the best I’ve ever had at an IOI.

On Monday, the first full day of activities, we traveled by bus to the town of Montichiari (the site of the competition venue) for the opening ceremony and a practice competition round, so everyone could familiarize themselves with the competition environment. The opening ceremony consisted of speeches from local dignitaries as well as musical performances from students and professionals in the area; a notable highlight was a solo played on a centuries-old Stradivarius violin. On Monday evening, the familiar routine from past IOIs began: students and leaders were separated as the leaders met to approve and translate the competition tasks for the following day. The translation process requires nearly all night for many of the team leaders; we are fortunate, since the original task descriptions are in English. The task set for the first day was quite challenging, but all the leaders agreed that the tasks were of very high quality.

Tuesday was our first day of competition. While the students spent 5 hours working through the 3 problems for the day, team leaders met for the “IOI Conference”, an academic event co-located with IOI that allows team leaders to share ideas on computing education. As in the past few years, there was a live scoreboard available during the contest for leaders to view. The early leader was, not surprisingly, Gennady Korotkevich from Belarus, who had won the past three IOIs (this being his final year). However, to our great excitement, Johnny Ho from team USA managed to pass Gennady and earn the only perfect score on day #1, with Mitchell Lee close behind in the 5th place spot.

To wind down after an intense day of competition, the students on Wednesday attended Gardaland, one of the largest amusement parks in Europe, while the coaches traveled to Milan for a half-day conference on engaging youth in informatics education, followed by a tour of the city. On Wednesday evening, team leaders approved and translated the tasks for day two of competition, which was perhaps even more difficult than the task set for day one, but of equally high quality.


Thursday was the moment everyone had been waiting for: the final day of competition. As team leaders watched the scoreboard during the contest, Gennady again jumped ahead into first place, where he stayed for most of the contest. However, with roughly one hour to go, Johnny Ho from team USA managed to complete the final problem with full marks, earning him a perfect score on both contest day and a guaranteed first place in the IOI overall. A cheer erupted from the crowd of onlookers when Johnny’s score jumped to the top of the scoreboard; it was a proud moment for me as the USA leader. All of the USA team members turned in strong showings on competition day 2, ensuring that we would end up with three gold medals and one bronze medal. By medal count, this places the USA in third behind China and Russia, both of whom had four golds. To celebrate, the USA team went to downtown Sirmione for a victory dinner at a nice restaurant that evening.


Friday was our big excursion day – the entire IOI population boarded a train early in the morning and set off for a day-long trip to Venice. We spent most of the morning touring St. Mark’s square and its well-known landmarks, including the Doge’s palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. In the afternoon, we toured the Arsenal, construction site for the Venetian navy that dominated this region many centuries ago.

On the following day, we traveled to Sirmione for the closing ceremony of IOI 2012. Students were called on stage to receive gold, silver, and bronze medals (as in every IOI, half the students receive medals, in the ratio 1:2:3 for gold:silver:bronze). The highlight of the evening was Johnny ascending the stage to accept his gold medal and special trophy for winning first place; the crowd called out his name and offered a thundering set of applause as a show of respect for this amazing accomplishment. The official results for team USA were:

Johnny Ho: gold, 1st place winner overall

Mitchell Lee: gold, 10th place

Scott Wu: gold, 22nd place

Daniel Ziegler: bronze, 90th place

To achieve this level of performance in an event with 310 top computing students from 81 countries is an outstanding result, one of our best ever! This marks only the third year that the top score at IOI has been a USA team member, and one of only a handful of years where we have returned with three gold medals.

At the end of the closing ceremony, team leaders from the top three countries (China, Russia, USA) were called to the stage to receive scholarship checks for students on their teams wishing to study informatics in Italy. the IOI flag was then officially passed to the host for 2013, Australia. The next IOIs will be held in: Australia (2013), Taiwan (2014), Kazakhstan (2015), and Russia (2016).

Of the 13 IOI’s I’ve now attended, this is definitely one of the most memorable. From a technical standpoint (task quality, smooth operation of the contest environment), it is also one of the very best. The Italian organizers and the host scientific committee deserve much credit for their hard work in putting this all together.

Many are to thank for contributing to our success at IOI 2012 and in general, the continued success of USACO. Foremost, we have a volunteer coaching staff second to none: Jacob Steinhardt (also my deputy leader at this IOI), Neal Wu, Mark Gordon, Richard Peng, Tim Abbott, and Eric Price coached at our summer training camp this year, and many others volunteered their time to help with problem creation throughout the 2011-2012 contest season. Thanks to Chad Waters, Clemson CCIT, and Rob Kolstad for their help with our technical infrastructure – it can be quite challenging to host as many training materials and on-line contests as we do, and these folks have helped a lot with this endeavor. Thanks to Clemson University and the Clemson School of Computing for serving as hosts for our summer training program.

Finally, a huge round of thanks are due to our sponsors: IBM, Usenix, Jump Trading, and TwoSigma – USACO, and a substantial fraction of the top computing students in this country, owe you all a debt of gratitude for your support.

Now that IOI 2012 is behind us, we can look forward to another exciting season for USACO. We should be posting the 2012-2013 season schedule on quite soon, so we hope you will follow our next season closely.


Brian Dean

Director, USA Computing Olympiad


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