The Second IMO Gold Girl

Me in 1975Janet Mertz encouraged me to find IMO girls and compare their careers to that of their teammates. I had always wanted to learn more about the legendary Lida Goncharova — who in 1962 was the first girl to win an IMO gold medal. So I located her, and after an interview, wrote about her. Only 14 years later, in 1976, did the next girl get a gold medal. That was me. I was ranked overall second and had 39 points out of 40.

As I did in the article about Lida, I would like to compare my math career to that of my teammates.

I got my PhD in 1988 and moved to the US in 1990. My postdoc at MIT in 1993 was followed by a postdoc at Bar-Ilan University. In 1996 I got a non-paying visiting position at Princeton University. In 1998 I gave up academia and moved to industry, accepting an offer from Bellcore. There were many reasons for that change: family, financial, geographical, medical and so on.

On the practical level, I had had two children and raising them was my first priority. But there was also a psychological element to this change: my low self-esteem. I believed that I wasn’t good enough and wouldn’t stand a chance of finding a job in academia. Looking back, I have no regrets about putting my kids first, but I do regret that I wasn’t confident enough in my abilities to persist.

I continued working in industry until I resigned in January 2008, due to my feeling that I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do: mathematics. Besides, my children were grown, giving me the freedom to leave a job I did not like and return to the work I love. Now I am a struggling freelance mathematician affiliated with MIT. Although my math blog is quite popular and I have been publishing research papers, I am not sure that I will ever be able to find an academic job because of my non-traditional curriculum vitae.

The year 1976 was very successful for the Soviet team. Out of nine gold medals our team took four. My result was the best for our team with 39 points followed by Sergey Finashin and Alexander Goncharov with 37 points and by Nikita Netsvetaev with 34 points.

Alexander Goncharov became a full professor at Brown University in 1999 and now is a full professor at Yale University. His research is in Arithmetic Algebraic Geometry, Teichmuller Theory and Integral Geometry. He has received multiple awards including the 1992 European Math Society prize. Sergey Finashin is very active in the fields of Low Dimensional Topology and Topology of Real Algebraic Varieties. He became a full professor at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey in 1998. Nikita Netsvetaev is an expert in Differential Topology. He is a professor at Saint Petersburg State University and the Head of the High Geometry Department.

Comparing my story to that of Lida, I already see a pattern emerging. Now I’m curious to hear the stories of other gold-winning women. I believe that the next gold girl, in 1984, was Karin Gröger from the German Democratic Republic. I haven’t yet managed to find her, so can my readers help?



  1. colorblind:

    This is a shot in the dark, but there is a German a woman referred to both as Karin Gröger and Karin Groeger who is a director of nursing at a clinic in Lübeck. Based on her photo, it seems she would be the approximate age.


    Karin Groeger
    Pflegerische Direktorin, Pflegedienstleitung

    Lübeck Phone: 0451 500 – 2635
    Lübeck Fax: 0451 500 – 3657
    Building / Room: Central Hospital

  2. Untel:

    She seems to have changed her name to Karin Damerow:

  3. Anna:

    “Dr. Karin Damerow studierte Mathematik an der Universität Leipzig und promovierte im Jahr 1995 an der Humboldt-Universität Berlin. Seit dem Jahr 1997 ist sie für data experts in Neubrandenburg tätig. Ihre Arbeitsgebiete sind Entwicklung, beziehungsweise Integration von Frameworks, Evaluierung und Einführung neuer Technologien, Architekturfragen, objektorientierte Analyse und Design in Kundenprojekten und die Weiterbildung von Mitarbeitern.”


    Dr Karin Damerow studied Mathematics at the University of Leipzig, Ph.D. in 1995 at the Humboldt University Berlin. She has been working for data experts in Neubrandenburg since 1997.

    data experts is a software/IT firm.

  4. beautifulmind:

    If you love both kids (hopefully,others’ as well) and math, did teaching at math club or establishing your own math club come to your mind? It seems a natural path….. I know there are a few math clubs at elementary and high school level in Boston area. But it’s really hard to find really good ones(surprising!) through my own experience. Nowadays, I coach my son for AMC in spare time for fun. If there is really good math club, I would definitely send him there. Best luck to you. – a parent and math fanatic

  5. Anna:

    Some IMO gold girls do stay in academia:

  6. Roberto Selva:

    I found you while I was looking for womans who had won the IMO. This year Lisa Sauermann had won her fourth gold medal, she is the first person that win four gold medals and a silver one.
    After reading your blog (I have one, too, but in spanish), I thought you might find interesting this information.
    Nice to meet you, Tanya

  7. Tanya Khovanova:

    Thank you, Roberto.

  8. Christine:

    Karin Gröger is married Damerow. You can find an old photo here:
    Anna is right. I met Karin several years ago in Neubrandenburg when she was working for Data experts but I lost contact.

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