Move over Joseph Schooling, there are two new sheriffs in town.
St Hilda’s Primary School’s Drew Michael Terren Ramirez, 11, bagged a gold medal and was Best Overall in Mathematics at the five-day International Mathematics and Science Olympiad (IMSO).
Team Singapore’s Lim Yu Tong was Best Overall in Science, winning another gold medal.
The competition, held in Singapore for the first time, from Nov 20 to 24, saw Team Singapore enter its biggest contingent yet with 24 pupils, winning one bronze, seven silver and 16 gold medals.
Sure, Drew and Yu Tong are pint-sized but the competition was no less intense with 309 of the brightest 10-to 12-year-olds from 21 countries and regions battling it out to demonstrate their knowledge of mathematics and scientific concepts. The first two days of the annual competition, now into its 14th iteration, saw participants diving into rigorous practice papers at the Suntec convention centre.
Like Schooling and other Olympians who get into the zone before a competition by plugging in their earphones, the pupils too retreated into their corners to psyche themselves up for the competition proper which started on Nov 22.
Team Singapore, which has consistently performed well at the IMSO, also won other science awards this year, with 11-year-olds Jaeden Soon Chuan Kai and Tng Shih Chun winning Best Experiment (Science) and Best in Theory (Science) respectively, and a gold medal each.
But the competitors will have you know that they are just regular kids.
When asked how they usually spend their time, pupils from Team Singapore said they liked swimming, playing badminton and tennis, and multiplayer mobile games on the Internet.
Zornitsa Stoyanova Hristova, 12, from Bulgaria, said her friends sometimes are jealous that she excels at science and mathematics.
“But we’re not seen as different from them or anything. We wish each other good luck when we go for exams,” she added.
Like the rest of her teammates, Zornitsa skipped the in-flight entertainment on the plane ride here to prepare for the competition.
It was not all work and no play, though. They had a chance to visit the sights while in Singapore, including a trip to the Science Centre.
On the afternoon of Day Three, after the competition ended, half of the competitors headed there. Pupils scattered around the exhibits, poking at anything worth experimenting with, showing curiosity has no bounds.
Most whipped out their smartphones, and posed coolly in front of optical illusion exhibits.
The other half visited the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, the school that organised this year’s competition, to tour its many facilities, including the science laboratories and eco-ponds.
The school’s running track proved a hit with the all-girls team from Iran who immediately started a race, gleefully sprinting with their head scarves blowing in the wind.
They finished the evening with a cultural ceremony at the NUS High auditorium.
Team Singapore went first, performing a medley of four songs – in Mandarin, Malay and Tamil – with slides of Singaporean sights and facts projected behind them.
Soon after, Team Indonesia performed, with one of their pupils belting out high notes to a classic Indonesian song as the audience cheered. The evening ended with the pupils exchanging gifts, and trading things such as postcards or keychains.
The next morning, the teams gathered in the lobby of Hotel Boss in Jalan Sultan, where the foreign teams were staying, before visiting Gardens by the Bay, the ArtScience Museum or the National Gallery. Many friendships were forged.
“We’re close to the Philippines team,” said Liu Xiuping, from Catholic High School (Primary).
St Hilda’s Primary School pupil Xu Ziyi added: “They’re really funny. We talk about games, about Singapore and about the Philippines. They’ll show us around the country if we go there.”
Ambrose James G. Torreon, from the Philippines, said he was friends with three Singaporeans, though he did not know their names. “I don’t really have to. We just said hi and started talking.”
In his closing address, Professor Kwek Leong Chuan, the chief juror for the science competition, reminded the pupils to “always try and never be discouraged”, adding: “Curiosity is the main drive for a budding scientist.”
Prof Kwek is a principal investigator at the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore and the deputy director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Nanyang Technological University.
The next IMSO will be held in China in a year’s time.