Oh, no, not again! I exclaimed as I found the final result of the 31st International Physics Olympiad (“IPhO”) two days before the awards ceremony. Yet, immediately, I accepted the result, and found complacence, since I had promised myself that I would not be discouraged again, even if I might not get a gold medal this time. Moreover, there was another reason why I would accept the result: The examination was hardest ever in IPhO history; so only a few students won gold medals. The 18th place, in which I could have won a gold medal last year, was by no mean discouraging. Even if I won also a silver medal and higher score last year, this result shows a great improvement.
Three months before this incident a question, which had been always unquestionable to other students, annoyed me: “Should I participate in the IPhO again? If I am chosen as a representative, will I win a gold medal? What will other people say to me if I don’t win one? That I have deprived them of their chances to participate in the IPhO, which guarantee their admissions to the S.N.U. and KAIST, the two most prestigious colleges in Korea? That I participated in the IPhO three times but never received a gold medal? If I don’t win one, will my preparation for the IPhO be a waste of time?”
Having ruminated on this matter for a long time, I reached a conclusion: I would not care, whether I will be chosen or not. If I am not chosen, I will not have to waste my time making myself a physics problem-solving machine. If I am chosen, I may get the venerable gold medal and moreover, I will have a great opportunity to travel to England for ten days. Yet, it required my self-determination to detach myself from the commonly held obsession for the gold medal.
Last year, right after we returned from the 30th IPhO, Mr.Soh, a professor at the S.N.U., explained to us that, while there might be a slight correlation between achieving a good result at the IPhO and having great potential to do research well as a physicist, achieving a good result at the IPhO doesn’t guarantee that one will become a successful physicist, because it only shows that one is qualified to solve physics problems in a short time. Therefore, he recommended some physics books to study further, which would never help my achievement as an IPhOer, since the level of the books are higher than that of the IPhO test. I understood his explanation and willingly followed his “order”, since my brain had been refreshed by the United States physics team, whom I met the year before. Even after the exam was finished, they discussed high-level quantum physics, which would never be and was not shown on the actual exam. They studied physics not based on the obsession with gold medals, but for the love of physics.
Not minding whether I would be chosen or not, I did not prepare for the qualification test as hard as others. Nevertheless, I was selected, as I had accumulated many more experiences. After that, I studied physics not to win a gold medal, which would please me, but to win a gold medal, which would evade the notion of “depriver” of other students’ chances for the IPhO. This attitude influenced my amount of solving physics problems. As far as I knew, my seniors, who won gold medals at the IPhO, studied harshly, solving physics problems more than ten hours a day. Not to mention it, I could not study as harshly as they. Solving enormous amounts of physics problems bored me even if I love physics, even if I love to study books recommended by Mr. Soh.
My result at the 31st IPhO was obviously expected. I won a silver medal again. As a result, I was not deified as a God at solving physics problems. Nevertheless, I don’t feel depressed, for I know that the result will never deter my dream, inquiring about the universe, which has been my dream since I was six years old.