Colorado Mathematical Olympiad celebrates 33rd year

April 18, 2016

Rachel Librach
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The Mathematical Olympiad is held annually all over the world to test young student’s deduction abilities, creativity and innovative thinking. It’s no ordinary math contest and anyone can win it.

This year will be the 33rd annual Colorado Mathematical Olympiad, and it will be on campus April 22. The competition was created in 1984 by CMO Chairman and UCCS math professor Alexander Soifer.

The CMO has gained attention worldwide and is the largest essay math competition in the U.S., according to Soifer, who entered the Moscow Mathematical Olympiad at age 14 and won several awards.

He soon discovered his love for mathematics. He wanted to offer young students the opportunity to experience math in a different way.

The creation of a math Olympiad in Russia inspired Soifer to start a new competition in the United States.

“I didn’t enjoy school mathematics. It was just one of the many disciplines that I had to make an A to please my mother, but in Moscow University I had exciting problems with beautiful and elegant solutions,” said Soifer.

The competition is open to all students at any grade level, according to Soifer. The questions aren’t knowledge based, but instead test one’s creative ability with abstract and untraditional math questions.

“Because we give the same problems to everyone, we try not to use any knowledge,” Soifer said. “No previous knowledge is required. Anyone, rich, poor, middle school, or high school can participate. Problems become even better, because this is pure creativity.”

Winners of the competition are eligible for two scholarships: the Chancellor’s Scholarship and another donated by various school districts.

The Chancellor’s Scholarship is conditional to the student’s enrollment in UCCS as an incoming freshman. The second scholarship can be used within two years at any accredited American university or four-year college.

MIT graduate student Mark Heim won first place in the 2003, 2004 and 2005 CMO’s. He is returning to the competition as a judge. He said one of the best aspects of the CMO is that you never know who’s going to win.

“At the 31st CMO, for the first time ever, an eighth grade girl won outright. She beat all the other high school seniors, and that just goes to show you that this math isn’t based on knowledge or your math skills, but on your own creative abilities,” said Heim.

“The problems were always a lot of fun, interesting and challenging to solve. They are problems that have elegant solutions, and I’m always fascinated to see what the organizers will come up with next.”

To learn more about the CMO, visit

A Colorful Solution

In a student film documentary for the 30th CMO, an example of a question asked at the 1986 CMO was featured: “Santa Clause and his elves paint the plane in two colors, red and green. Prove that the plane includes two points of the same color exactly one inch apart”.
The solution was explained by David Hunter, a professor and head of statistics at Pennsylvania State University and first prize winner for the 1986, 1987, and 1989 CMO’s.
“The solution is to draw an equilateral triangle over the object where the three vertices are exactly one inch apart and because two of the three must be the same color, you’ve solved the problem,” he said in the documentary.