by Don Piele, USA
Here is a question that stumps most Americans: “Name two cities in Finland.” After Helsinki, the mind goes blank. So when I told colleagues I was off to Tampere for the 13th International Olympiad in Informatics, July 14- 21, their response was, “Where?” Tampere, it turns out, is a thriving, clean city of 200,000 nestled between the banks of two large lakes, a two-hour bus ride north of Helsinki. Here, in a flat land filled with woods and lakes where nights never completely darken, would be our home for the next week. What follows is my trip report for IOI 2001.
The US delegation gathered at JFK airport in New York on Friday, July 13th for an evening flight aboard Finnair to Helsinki. Team members Steven Sivek from Virginia and Tom Widland from New Mexico were there. Team member Vladimir Novakovski would be joining us in Helsinski after competing in the International Physics Olympiad in Turkey and competitor Reid Barton would come over a day late after competing in the International Mathematics Olympiad in Washington D.C.
Team leader Rob Kolstad from Colorado, deputy leader Hal Burch from New Jersey, and myself (International Committee member) rounded out the normal USA delegation. We added five more to the delegation to study specific tasks that need to be done when we host the IOI in 2003: Greg Galperin and Brian Dean from Massachusetts, Tom Quayle from California, Jeff Polk from Colorado, and Lenny Klaver from Wisconsin. Kimberly Burch, Hal's new wife, was a guest.
Arrival in Helsinki
As soon as we cleared customs and entered the lobby area of the Helsinki airport we were met by two members of the welcoming committee in their blue IOI2001 T-shirts, patiently awaiting the arrival of all the teams.
We arrived in Tampere after a short bus ride, approximately twenty-two hours after leaving home. Team members were dropped off at the Villa Hotel and the delegation leaders were taken to the Ramada Hotel. Although it was tempting to succumb to our drowsiness and lie down for a short nap, we resisted. We’d learned that it’s best to suffer the sleep loss early in order to adjust quickly to the 8 hour jet lag. Delegations from 74 countries would arrive throughout the remainder of the day.
Our guide, Sini Riihijarn, met us at the registration desk after we had settled our accounts and had received IOI 2001 backpacks, filled with goodies. Backpacks in Finland came equipped with cell phone holders on the shoulder strap, since everyone in Finland seems to be born with a Nokia cell phone in their hand.
Next we were off to the cafeteria at the University of Tampere to greet other team leaders, who have become good friends over the years. Once someone becomes an IOI team leader, they often want to continue as long as possible. As a result, the annual IOI is getting to feel a bit like a class reunion.
The first day of an IOI is customarily devoted to getting used to the surroundings and overcoming jet lag. This was accomplished with an orienteering adventure in the city of Tampere. With the help of our guide, the team took off to visit numbered locations around the city and to answer a series of questions. At the Information Center, they discovered the population of Tampere (200,000) and the number of lakes within the city limits (200).
A new feature of this year’s competition was an automated grading system developed by Rob Kolstad. With his system, students can submit their source code over the Internet and get an immediate check that it compiles and correctly solves a simple case. In order to get used to this system it was necessary to schedule a practice round. After months of hard work, the system got its first real test under competition conditions and passed with flying colors. This was a watershed moment in the history of the IOI, made possible by switching to a Lenux environment for compiling and grading.
The opening ceremonies were held in the main auditorium of Tampere Hall on Sunday. Steel Pan Lovers opened the program followed by an Introduction from Jari Koivisto, Chair of IOI 2001, and a “Welcome to Finland” address by Mr. Jukka Sarjala, Director General of IOI2001. Folk dancing and music was interspersed with a few short remarks from retired Finnish gold medalist – Tero Karras; a Nokia representative – Tytti Varmavuo; and Jyrki Nummenmaa, Chair of the Scientific Committee.
A total of 509 people, including 272 contestants from 74 countries, watched the ceremony. Afterwards, the team leaders had a buffet dinner in the Fuuga Restaurant in Tampere Hall.
That evening the delegation leaders met to choose the problems for the first competition day. The problems were presented and accepted unanimously on the first try. Now the only thing left for many countries was translating the problems into their native language. Since the official language of the IOI is English and all contestants receive a copy in English, our delegation was able to skip this time consuming task.
First Day of Competition
On Monday morning, the contestants began the first five-hour competition. This gave the delegation leaders a break, and some headed back to the hotel for some sleep after an all night translation session. Five hours later, the first round was over and all problems had to be submitted to the grading system.
Rob had used his grading system at our training camp in June, where the programs from fifteen competitors were all graded within fifteen minutes after the contest had ended. Now the program had to work for 272 competitors. The processing load was distributed between 30 computers, so, barring unforeseen circumstances, it shouldn’t take much longer to grade all the IOI competitors.
There were two unforeseen circumstances: extremely large programs, and programs taking minutes rather than seconds to compile. The large programs were the result of students trying to do an abnormal amount of preprocessing. These were rare cases, but they had to be dealt with before the next round. It was decided by the general assembly to limit program size to one megabyte and compilation time to 30 seconds. Despite these first day problems, the results were ready by early afternoon, and every student could see exactly where his or her program succeeded and where it failed with the test data. Contestants got a detailed report of which data sets ran correctly and within the specified time limit. Points were automatically assigned and a total recorded.
Some questions were raised about the short time limits on one of the problems and about the accuracy of the timing process. The handling of these questions resulted in some ruffled feathers.
Excursion Day 1
The day between the two competition days is traditionally reserved for a nearby excursion. The skies where overcast and it looked like rain. Luckily one of the presents inside our backpack was a plastic raincoat. It would come in very handy on this trip. We walked down to the quay and boarded a passenger ferry for a short trip to Viikinsaari Island.
When we arrived, the rain was coming down in buckets and we made a mad dash for the only building in sight. There we stayed until the rains lifted and we were able to take a walk around the island. When the sun came out, some went on boat rides, a few swam, some played volley ball, others walked on stilts, and a few took a break dance lesson. The afternoon was beautiful, and everyone relaxed and had a good time enjoying nature.
Competition Day 2
This was pretty much a carbon copy of the first
competition day. But the grading process was not so lucky. About everything
imaginable that could go wrong did. Files were accidentally erased.
Lightning struck and power was lost, trapping the programs in the
computers. Rob, working non-stop for days, finally crashed too and went to bed.
In the evening, while everyone else was sleeping, he was back at Tampere Hall
with the power restored, rebooting, by hand, all 272 computers so the grading
process could continue.
The new grading program advanced the IOI grading
system by a quantum leap. But it came at a heavy cost to Rob, who was under
constant pressure to keep everything working. He was not able to participate in
the activities and excursions that make the IOI so enjoyable. This is something
none of us anticipated and we don’t want to repeat.
The day after the last competition, the team leaders traveled to Ruovesi National Park for a 2.5 km hike in a pristine forest. We got information about the flora and fauna in the park along with a map and a box lunch. Meanwhile the contestants were getting their thrills and spills at the amusement park riding the Sky Flyer and the popular Tornado.
Once the cut off values for the gold silver and
bronze medals had been determined, it is traditional to celebrate with a fancy
dinner and some dancing. The venue this year was the hotel Rosendahl. Our
delegation was color coordinated with polo shirts embroidered by Rob. The only
problem was, Rob wasn’t there. He was too exhausted from the grading ordeal and
On the afternoon of Friday the 20th, the closing ceremonies were held in the main auditorium of Tampere Hall. As we filed in we received a booklet prepared by Finland’s Scientific Committee, with all the problems used in the competition and the reserve problems worked out in complete detail. This was a wonderful idea and the first time it had been done. Often this material is available only a year after the competition is over. Another nice touch was when Jari Koivisto called all the guides to the stage, where they received the adulation of the audience for a job well done.
When the medal winners were announced, their names
were displayed overhead on a large screen -- another idea which we will copy for
2003. There were 64 bronze medals and one went to Steven Sivek from the US.
A total of 45 silver medals were awarded, one going
to Tom Widland
and another to Vladimir Novakovski.
Twenty gold medals were awarded and then it was time to announce the top three gold medals: Third Place Ziqing Mao, China – 485 points, Second Place Mihai Patrascu, Romania – 525 points and First Place Reid Barton, USA – 580 points.
This was the biggest gap between first and second place in the history of the IOI. A very poised and humble young man received the applause from the audience and a new laptop computer from Mikrolog. It was the first time a contestant from the United States had won the top prize.
In addition to this victory, just a week earlier Reid had won the top gold medal at the International Mathematics Olympiad, making him the first competitor ever to win the top gold medal in two International Olympiads. Reid’s mother, Pam, who had planned to vacation in Finland with Reid after the IOI, was with us to witness this extraordinary achievement.
Finally the IOI flag was passed on to Ha-Jine Kimn of Korea, where the 14th IOI will be held next August.
An elegant sit down dinner followed the ceremony. Finally it was the time to unload all those trinkets we had brought along as trading material. Reid handed out Daisy, a beenie baby cow, to everyone we could corral, including our guides. Yes, we had two guides, since Tuuli Rythy was supposed to be a guide for Mongolia but that team never showed up. Now the exodus would be non-stop until all 74 countries had left Tampere heading for home.
Thank you, Jari, Jryki, Tiina and the entire Finnish organization for your hard work and innovations that you brought to IOI 2001. It was another memorable IOI. Thank you, Rob, for your extraordinary efforts in creating the ultimate grading program. Now take a long rest.