City pair prime mathletes

Columba College pupil Monica Bae with a touch-screen algebraic simulating calculator she won...
Columba College pupil Monica Bae with a touch-screen algebraic simulating calculator she won after coming second in the New Zealand final of the World Maths Day Mathletics Competition in Auckland. Photo by Craig Baxter.
When you add competitive spirit to a passion for numbers, you get great mathletes.

And when it comes to mathletes, Dunedin has some of the best in the country.

Columba College pupil Monica Bae (14) and Kavanagh College pupil Damien Lapham (14) were second and third respectively at the recent New Zealand final of the World Maths Day Mathletics Competition in Auckland.

The pair were two of five secondary school pupils from around the country selected to compete in the 14-18 years age group of the competition after finishing in the top five New Zealanders competing in the computer-based World Maths Day earlier this month.

For Monica, the experience was thrilling.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, welcomed the competitors to the challenge, and top New Zealand performers Midnight Youth, the Checks, Scribe and Savage provided entertainment between each challenge.

"It made me feel very special. But I also felt a lot of pressure, especially at the start, because I was fifth in the rankings going into the challenge.

"The pressure is intense because every wrong answer can put you out of contention.

"But once I got started, I did what I normally do and made my way up to second."

Monica was delighted with coming second in the national competition, and is excited about representing New Zealand in the 2011 World Maths Day.

Surprisingly, Monica said her passion for numbers had grown out of her love of languages.

"To me, maths is just like another language. I like languages."

As well as maths, she studies Chinese, Japanese and studied German last year.

She is also bi-lingual - she can speak fluent English and Korean.

Monica said she had come a long way in her studies since she emigrated to New Zealand from Korea with her parents.

She was 8 at the time and said her time in New Zealand had not only been great for her education, but also her health.

"My parents brought me to New Zealand because I had a severe skin condition, and the pollution in Korea exacerbated it.

"It has been much better since coming to New Zealand."

She and Damien will now be a part of the four-member Team New Zealand.

Damien was delighted with the achievement, but the experience was not new to him.

In 2008, he won the 8-13 years age group category at the national final and was 19th in the world.

Like Monica, pressure was a major factor for Damien in the competition.

"I was pretty happy to get third. Third is awesome.

"The biggest pressure was answering questions in front of everyone watching. There were about 1000 people there."

Both are now looking forward to taking on pupils from other countries around the world on World Maths Day 2011.


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