KAMAKURA, Kanagawa Prefecture--Math whiz Hiroki Komatsu prepared for the recent 53rd International Mathematical Olympiad in Argentina by solving all competition questions from the past 30 years.
The workload was so heavy that in the months leading up to the contest, he was solving problems for three hours a day on weekdays and nine hours on holidays.
"One day I spent 13 and a half hours at it," Komatsu said. "It made me dizzy, and I felt I could never endure that again."
The hard work paid off.
Komatsu, a third-year student at Eiko Gakuen Senior High School, returned home last month with a silver medal. He was among 548 young mathematicians competing from around the world.
The Olympiad is held annually; it sets problems such as complex equations and geometry for participants to solve. A medal is considered a prestigious award for a young person considering a career in mathematics or engineering.
Komatsu said he was excited to represent Japan, but he found his hands trembling so much that he was unable to write properly.
He began focusing on mathematics three years ago after winning a place at a summer seminar organized by the Mathematical Olympiad Foundation of Japan, which screens candidates for the national team.
He found that other participants, of similar age, were using case analysis and probability theory even during everyday activities such as a game of cards. Komatsu remembers thinking at the time that he wanted to match them in skill.
The contest was held in the city of Mar del Plata, Argentina. It lasted two days, with participants given a total of nine hours to solve six questions. One involved integers; another the proof of an inequality.
But winning silver was not Komatsu's only reward. He said he appreciated its international atmosphere. Since the first Olympiad in 1959, students from more than 100 nations have taken part.
As Komatsu prepared to tackle the first question, an Irish competitor nearby wished him "good luck" and shook his hand. Afterward, Komatsu relaxed by kicking around a ball with a competitor from Iran.
"Mathematics helped me make friends beyond the boundaries of schools and nations," he said. "It expanded my field of vision."
He said his dream is one day to become a team teacher, to set questions himself, and to help train future national teams.
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