25 July 2012:
EGMO 2012: Information: Background on maths competitions
These began in the 19th century in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They have spread across the globe since 1959, when the first International Mathematical Olympiad was held in Romania.
Though it started as a small scale competition for the countries in the communist bloc, the IMO has grown over the years. It is held annually, and was in Kazakhstan in 2010 and the Netherlands in 2011. In 2012 it will be held in Argentina and in 2013 in Colombia. These days about 100 countries send teams to the IMO, and it has become the World Championship of secondary school mathematics. Many of the leading mathematicians in the world were IMO participants in their youth. Three of the past four Fields Medallists (equivalent to the Nobel Prize for mathematics) were IMO participants in their youth.
Most countries now have a system of maths competitions in their schools. In the UK over half a million children take part in the Maths Challenges organised by UKMT every year.
There are now many regional maths competitions all over the world. The UK participates in the Balkan Mathematical Olympiad and the Romanian Master of Mathematics competitions. In 2010 the UK sent a team to the China Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad under the leadership of Ceri Fiddes and Alison Zhu. Inspired by the success of that competition, UKMT and MEC decided to launch a European Girls’ Competition in 2012. The second EGMO was held in Luxembourg in 2013.