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Schools: IMSA student takes gold in Mathematics Olympiad

James  Tao, a graduate of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, won his second gold medal competing for Team USA at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) July 23-24.  |  Submitted
James Tao, a graduate of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, won his second gold medal competing for Team USA at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) July 23-24. | Submitted

Math star James Tao again applied his winning formula to math competitions.

Tao, a graduate of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, won his second gold medal competing for Team USA at the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) July 23 through 24. After rigorous preparation, Tao competed against 600 of the best math students from more than 100 countries.

Preparation for the “Olympics of student math competitions” was rigorous. Topics included combinatorics arguments and identities, graph theory, probability, number theory, complex numbers in geometry, and combinatorial and advanced geometry.

“I’d go online to look up past problems and learn something new for the test,” said Tao, who dedicated three hours a day — in addition to his school work — preparing for the Olympiad. “Sometimes I’d pick up a good textbook and just work through it.”

The competition lasted two days, during which teams solved six problems handpicked from a range of topics. Tao describes the IMO as a “yearlong competition,” given the packed schedule of preliminary competitions and training that come before it. Tao’s road to gold began in the American Mathematics Competition (AMC), where he placed in the top 1 percent. This qualified him for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME), where Tao scored within the top 500 participants and was finally able to compete in the USA Mathematical Olympiad.

For Tao, the opportunity to represent his country made all the preparation worthwhile.

“Seeing the American flag go up on the medal stand was a good feeling,” he said.

Tao plans to use his talent to educate others, but he also has a backup plan.

“If I don’t become a professor, I’ll try to find something that interests me,” he said. “If I can’t find a job that interests me, I’ll create one.”

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