Israeli computer whiz kids bring home the gold

Four students propelled Israel to a top ten ranking in the world Olympics of computer programming

Members of Team Israel (l. to r.) Jonathan Moshayov (adviser), Ron Ribtz'in, Daniel Hadas, Ohad Klein, Tom Kalvari, Oren Bakar (trainer). (Photo Credit: Leaf Sharqy)
Members of Team Israel (l. to r.) Jonathan Moshayov (adviser), Ron Ribtz'in, Daniel Hadas, Ohad Klein, Tom Kalvari, Oren Bakar (trainer). (Photo Credit: Leaf Sharqy)

Israel didn’t do too well in the Summer Olympics, but when it comes to the “computer Olympics,” Team Israel dominates, bringing home gold this week upon its return from the four-day event in Brisbane, Australia.

Besides a gold medal, the four Israeli teens who represented the country won two silver and one bronze — ranking Team Israel as the eighth-best in the world, out of the 80 teams that participated.

The event, properly called the International Olympiad in Informatics, has been going on for 25 years, and was designed to highlight the accomplishments of youth in informatics — also known as computer science. It’s one of five olympiads for high school students in the hard sciences (the others are in mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics) initiated by UNESCO.

The term “computer science” casts a very wide net, and the Olympiad’s version of computer science skews to the really hard side of the discipline. Participants are given problems for which they have to write computer programs using algorithms (i.e., very neat, organized, and efficient programming); the more efficient (the less code used) and powerful the program is, the higher the score. The problems, needless to say, are very complicated. One used in last year’s Olympiad, for example, called “Jousting Tournament,” required three pages of very detailed instructions as to what was expected from the teams.

Participants are awarded medals and ranked for their individual contributions to programs, and judges rate the team as a whole after analyzing the program. This year’s big winner was 18-year-old Daniel Hadas, a senior from Holon, who won a gold medal. And Tom Kalvari, a 17-year-old from the Kfar Hayarok high school, won two silvers (for both, this was their second year at the Olympiad). Two other students — 17-year-old Ohad Klein and 18-year-old Ron Ribchin — won bronze medals.

Overall, Team Israel ranked eighth in the contest, a significant improvement over recent years. Last year, Israel was in 17th place worldwide; in 2011, Israel’s team reached 19th place, and in 2010, Israel was 23rd. The top winners this year, as in recent years, were the usual suspects for science excellence — China, Russia, and South Korea, in that order.

Congratulating the students, Education Minister Shai Piron said, “This is an impressive and exciting accomplishment; this is a great proof of the skills among Israeli youth. I have no doubt that with our talent in science, the state of Israel will continue to lead the world in quality of scientific research, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

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