IOI 2000
Beijing, China
by Don Piele, USA
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I remember as a young boy sitting in a sandbox being told, “If you dig long and deep enough you can dig a hole to China.”  I never made it to China that way, but I finally did make it to Beijing by plane on the occasion of the 12th International Olympiad in Informatics, the first IOI to be held on the continent of Asia. The week long event, September 23-30, 2000, was packed with excursions, entertainment, competitions, friendship, awards and, of course, abundant Chinese food.  Here is my trip report along with selected pictures of the event.

We arrived in Beijing with the Canadian team after a twelve hour flight from Vancouver, British Columbia.  Our delegation had gathered in Vancouver from all parts of the United States. Team Leader Rob Kolstad from Colorado Springs, Hal Burch from Pittsburgh, Greg Galperin from Boston, and myself from Wisconsin. Team members Percy Liang and John Danaher interrupted their freshman year at MIT for the trip. Gregory Price from Thomas Jefferson HS of Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia and Reid Barton from Arlington, Massachusetts rounded out the USA team of four.

IOI Guides

Shortly after arriving in Beijing, we walked through the sliding doors into the welcoming signs of our Chinese IOI guides.  In their red and black vests displaying the IOI 2000 logo, they were easy to spot. 


Their first job was to greet us at the airport and get us safely transported by bus to our hotels. The team members were dropped off at the CATIC Grand Hotel and the delegation leaders went to the four star Continental Grand Hotel. We had arrived at 3 pm in the afternoon a bit tired from the long flight. It was very tempting to want to lie down for a short nap, but we all resisted knowing it is best to suffer the sleep loss early in order to adjust quickly to the 12 hour jet lag.

Summer Palace Excursion

We awoke the next day ready for our first excursion. As is customary at IOI events, several days of excursions had been planned for the week. Our first trip was to the Summer Palace, a huge park in the northern part of Beijing that was the summer home for royalty for nearly 800 years.  It had been restored after being destroyed in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. Our tour guide led us through this crowded park, which is both a favorite tourist attraction and a popular retreat for Beijingers. The huge Kunming Lake within the park was built completely by manual labor. A popular activity is to take a dragon boat ride on the lake.

Another attraction is the world famous 728 meter-long corridor that is decorated with 8,000 paintings.

Opening Ceremonies

The opening ceremonies were held in the Beijing International Convention Hall. Mrs. Chen Zhili from the Ministry of Education, delivered the opening address in Mandarin Chinese followed by an English translation.

For entertainment we were treated to a number of outstanding performances featuring acrobats,

musicians,

and a troop from the Beijing Opera.

Afterwards, all 512 guests including 276 contestants from 75 countries filed into a reception hall to try their hand with chop sticks as they sampled dishes from an elaborate Chinese buffet. Zide Du, chairman of the organizing committee from China, was happy to see that his long hours of hard work had finally paid off and IOI 2000 was officially underway. His daughter was on hand to join in the festivities.

General Assembly

That evening the delegation leaders met to choose the problems for the first competition day. The problems were presented by the scientific committee

and accepted unanimously on the first vote.

This happens so infrequently that the general assembly gave the scientific committee a round of applause. It is not easy to get approval of the first try from all countries.

Now the only thing left for many countries was translating the problems into their native language. Our delegation was fortunate and skipped this time consuming task since the official language of the IOI is English and all contestants receive a copy in English.

Early the next morning, the contestants began the first of two five-hour competitions. This gave the delegation leaders a break, and many headed back to their room for some sleep after an all night translations session. After the contestants had finished programming their solutions to the three problems, it was time to begin the grading process. Using an automated system, the work of grading the contestants programs was dramatically reduced.  Differences in program performance were detected by running a series of test cases against each program and checking for speed and accuracy.  After all the programs were tested, the results were made available to each contestant, along with the test cases . This gave the contestants the opportunity to double check the grading process using their own computers. Our team was pleased with the first day’s results.

Second Excursion

Between competition days we were treated to an excursion to the heart of Beijing,  beginning with the Forbidden City. This was the seat of imperial power during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). It has been written, “Without seeing the magnificence of the royal palace, one can never sense the dignity of the emperor.” We were given lots of opportunity to wander around the beautiful courtyards and inside the buildings. It reminded me of scenes from the motion picture, The Last Emperor.

 

Our next stop was Tienneman Square which was decorated with imported flowers for the October 1st celebration of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Our team got in the spirit of the occasion by waving the red flag and Mao’s little red book, which were always available from obliging vendors.

 

Kim Schrijvers, the team leader from the Netherlands, was able to quickly round up over 100 unsuspecting IOI participants for his “spontaneous” group photo on the square.

Second Competition Day

The second day was pretty much a carbon copy of the first competition day with the exception that the problems presented were a bit harder and arriving at an agreement on them took a bit longer. All in all it appeared that the creation of the International Scientific Committee had been a good idea since their work was very helpful to the Chinese Scientific Committee in selecting and testing out the competition problems. The final distribution of scores in the competition also confirmed that the problems were at the proper level of difficulty for a good distribution of scores. Now the guessing game began by the delegations as they wondered if their scores were high enough to get bronze, silver, or gold medals.

Following the last day of competition, we headed out in buses to the Chinese acrobatic show. This was a highly entertaining show featuring  young children who could balance on just about anything and make it look easy. One boy was able to do a one handed hand stand on the head of another boy standing up.

Another young girl constructed a tower of furniture supported below by a companion and managed to balance on the very top of a stack at least 30 feet high in the air.

 

The Great Wall

The highlight of this day was a trip to the Great Wall of China, one of the great wonders of the world. This 2,000 year old structure, stretching for 4,500 miles stands today as a symbol of Chinese ingenuity and willpower. 

At one time every fourth person in China worked on the wall. It’s a steep climb in some places to even walk on the wall since it goes straight up a mountain instead of taking the more gentle contour. After we had walked and climbed about as far as our tired legs could carry us, we returned to an outpost tower on the wall for a fully catered banquet. Chairs and tables had been hand carried onto the wall along with all of the dishes, glasses, and food for this spectacular occasion. As we sat together eating our meal, watching the sun set in the west and the lights come on illuminating the Great Wall, it was hard to believe this was really happening. A few of those at our table looked at each other and shook our heads, “This is truly unforgettable.” 

Closing Ceremonies

Based on everything that I had already seen this week, and everything I had been told about Chinese ceremonies, I was expecting a grand finale. I was not disappointed. It began with video highlights of the week's activities, featuring scenes projected on large overhead screens within the convention hall. Official dignitaries from China occupied a special position in the first row. After a series of elaborate stage performances and speeches, it was time for the medals to be awarded. As is customary, only half of the participating students were awarded medals. Sixty nine bronze medals were handed out individually to the winners. Gregory Price from our team won the bronze medal. 

Forty seven silver medals were awarded, and two of them went to team members Percy Liang and John Danaher. 

The coveted gold medal was reserved for the top twenty-three participants, and Reid Barton got one of them. This was the second gold medal this year for Reid at an International Olympiad. He was awarded a gold medal at the Mathematics Olympiad held in Korea earlier in July.

 

Special recognition went to Jing Xu of China for being the best female contestant at the Olympiad. Only six of the 276 participants were women. A perfect score was recorded by one contestant, Mikhail Baoutine, from the Russian Federation. He was awarded the winner’s trophy, a gold medal, and a laptop computer.

 All three of his team mates also won gold medals, making this the first time in IOI history that one country has won four gold medals.

Final Banquet

That evening we were bused to the Red Rooster Theater & Restaurant in downtown Beijing where our party of over 500 was served a marvelous Chinese meal by waiters and waitresses on roller skates.  It always amazed me how quickly every sit down dinner in China was served, no matter what the size of the party. There was never any waiting time that one would expect when feeding so many people all at once. The number of good service people in restaurants and shopping centers was one of the many things that astounded me about China. And the tall, slender, dancing and singing models decked out in alluring attire who entertained us that night was another. It was the Beijing version of a Las Vegas chorus line.

New Environments

Starting in 2001, the computing environment will include LINUX with the GNU C/C++  and the Free Pascal compilers. This will allow for more interesting problems and really speed up the grading process  This was adopted by the General Assembly on the recommendation made by our head coach, Rob Kolstad, in a presentation to the group.

Memorable IOI

After such an elaborate IOI in China, our delegation agreed that we had underestimated the amount of work that it takes to put on an event of this magnitude. This is a concern, because we are hosting the IOI in 2003.  Hopefully, memories will have faded by then and our guests will forgive us for not having a branch of the Great Wall anywhere near Chicago. Thankfully, the torch was passed to Finland who will host the 2001 IOI in Tampere.

Thank you Zide Du and the entire Chinese organization for making the first IOI of the 21st century such a memorable one. 

Post Script

Being a member of the International Committee of the IOI has afforded me the opportunity to visit many parts of the world I would probably never have seen. This year’s trip to China, was especially interesting to me, since it was my first visit to Asia. I took lots of digital photographs beyond the ones shown here. The complete set can be viewed with Internet Explorer at www.zing.com. When you reach Zing.com. search under Albums for IOI 2000. All of the pictures stored at Zing.com are 50 times as big as the jpegs shown here. It is possible to order prints from Zing or download the files and make your own.