SINGAPORE - Move over Joseph Schooling, there are two new sheriffs in town.
St. Hilda's Primary School's Drew Michael Terren Ramirez, 11, bagged a gold medal and was Best Overall in Mathematics at the five-day International Mathematics and Science Olympiad (IMSO). Team Singapore's Lim Yu Tong was Best Overall in Science, winning a gold medal as well.
The competition, held in Singapore for the first time from Nov 20 to 24, saw Team Singapore enter its biggest team yet with 24 students, and winning one bronze, seven silver and 16 gold medals in total.
Sure, Drew and Yu Tong are pint-sized but the competition was no less intense with 309 of the brightest 10 to 12 year olds from 21 countries and regions battling it out to demonstrate their knowledge of mathematics and scientific concepts.
The first two days of the annual competition, now into its 14th iteration, saw participants diving into rigorous practice papers in Suntec City.
Like Schooling and the others Olympians drawing confidence from their earphones, the students too retreated into their corners to psyche themselves for the competition proper which started on Nov 22, the third day.
Team Singapore, which has consistently performed well at IMSO, also won other science awards this year, with 11-year-olds Jaeden Soon Chuankai and Tng Shih Chun winning Best Experiment (Science) and Best in Theory (Science) respectively, and a gold medal each.
But the competitors will have you know that they are just regular kids.
When asked how they usually spend their time, students from Team Singapore said they liked playing badminton, tennis, swimming, and playing multiplayer mobile games on the Internet.
12-year-old Zornitsa Stoyanova Hristova from Bulgaria said her friends sometimes are jealous that she excels at science and mathematics.
"But we're not seen as different from them or anything. We wish each other good luck when we go for exams," she added. Like the rest of her team mates, Zornitsa skipped the in-flight entertainment to play catch-up in preparation for the competition.
No, Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind - movies about geniuses - were not showing.
It was not all about mugging though.
They had a chance to visit sights around the island. Yes, including the Science Centre.
On the afternoon of Day Three, after the competition ended, half of the competitors headed there. Students scattered around the exhibits, poking around at anything worth experimenting with, showing curiosity has no bounds.
Most whipped out their smartphones, and would pose coolly in front of optical illusion exhibits.
The other half visited NUS High, the school that organised this year's competition, to tour around its many facilities, including the science laboratories and eco-ponds.
The school's running track proved a hit with the all-girls team from Iran who immediately started a race, gleefully sprinting with their head scarves flowing in the wind.
They finished that evening with a cultural ceremony at the NUS High auditorium.
Team Singapore went first, performing a medley of four songs - in Chinese, Malay and Tamil - with slides of Singaporean sights and facts behind them. Soon after, Team Indonesia performed, with one of their students belting out high notes to a classic Indonesian song as cheers swelled throughout the audience.
The evening ended with the students exchanging gifts, and trading things such as postcards or keychains in the auditorium itself.
The next morning, the 30 teams waited in the lobby of Hotel Boss in Jalan Sultan, where the foreign teams were all staying, before visiting Gardens By The Bay, The Art Science Museum or the National Gallery.
Many friends were made.
"We're close to the Philippines team," said Liu Xiuping, from Catholic High School (Primary).
Fellow team member Xu Ziyi, from St. Hilda's Primary School, added: "They're really funny. We talk about games, about Singapore and about Philippines. They'll show us around the country if we go there."
Ambrose James G. Torreon from Philippines said he was friends with three Singaporeans, though he did not know their names. "I don't really have to. We just said hi and started talking."
In his closing address, Professor Kwek Leong Chuan, the chief juror for the science competition, reminded students to "always try and never be discouraged", adding: "Curiosity is the main drive for a budding scientist.
Prok Kwek is a principal investigator at the Center for Quantum Technologies, NUS and the Deputy Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies at NTU.
The next IMSO will be held in China in a year's time.