American teens won the International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time in two decades

Flying high?
Flying high?
Image: Reuters/Larry Downing
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For all the talk of Americans’ lagging math scores compared to other countries, there are at least six Americans who can say they’re the best in the world—the team of high school students that won the International Mathematical Olympiad (via NPR) this month in Thailand. That ended a 21 year drought for the US.

The American team has actually always been close to the top, though it hasn’t taken the gold since 1994. China has been the dominant team over that time, winning 15 times since the last US victory.

The team’s coach, Po-Shen Loh, told the Washington Post that true to the competition’s name, this olympiad is to young mathematicians as the Olympics are to athletes.

“Why we are doing this for the country is that basically it plays the same role as the Olympics does in sports: to have some sort of far destination that all of our hundreds of thousands or millions of people in America can reach towards, like a pinnacle in the distance,” Loh said. “It pushes people to reach farther in mathematics.”

The test is grueling—contestants compete for two days, and have four and a half hours to answer three questions each day, according to the Guardian.