The first International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) was held in 1959 in Romania. It was originally intended for Eastern Bloc countries only, but since then the list of participating countries has grown to over 80 from all over the world. The site of the competition changes each year, and past locations include such diverse venues as Finland, India, Cuba, Argentina, and Bulgaria. The United States first competed in the IMO in East Germany in 1974 and, in addition to hosting this year, also hosted the competition in 1981. The competition has been held every year except 1980.
When the IMO first began, each country was allowed up to eight participants. In 1982 this was scaled back to four members, but in 1983 the number was increased to six, which is where it still stands. The contestants must be no more than 20 years old and must not have any postsecondary-school education. There is no limit to how many times a person may participate in the IMO, provided the individual meets the age and schooling requirements. Even though the contestants represent their countries in the Olympiad, there are no official teams and all scoring is done on an individual basis only.
Although the particular way the representatives are chosen differs from country to country, each country requires a great deal of hard work and mathematical skill from its members. The competition gives these young people a chance to display their mathematical prowess, but the actual competition comprises only two days of the two-week event. A large part of the rest of the time is spent socializing with the other students and touring the hosting country. For many who participate, the friends and memories made at the IMO outweigh the actual scores and medals. It is an experience that cannot help but shape the participants, many of whom have gone on to achieve tremendous success in their chosen fields.