WASHINGTON - Less than 50 young spellers have advanced to the final day of competition of the Scripps national bee, including three Canadians.

Forty-one of the record 293 spellers survived the preliminary rounds and will compete in the semifinals starting Thursday morning.

They include Claudine Broussard, 13, of Sydney, N.S., Laura Newcombe, 10, of Toronto, and Veronica Penny, 11, of Hamilton.

The finals of the 82nd Scripps National Spelling Bee take place Thursday night. The winner gets more than US$40,000 in cash and prizes.

The competition began Tuesday with a written test. That score was combined with Wednesday's oral rounds to produce the semifinalists.

The first oral round was a breeze - with words such as "lyric" and "custard." The second round became a little more difficult. Some of the spellers stumbled over words such as "hepatomegaly" and "guttiferous."

Expected to make the finals are several returning favourites. Keiko Bridwell, 14, of Duncan, S.C., is back for the fourth time after tying for 17th last year.

She had no problem with "swivel" and "mahout" (one who keeps or drives elephants) in her oral rounds and breezed into the semifinals.

Is it easier now because she's a veteran?

"More pressure," Keiko said. "Everybody wants me to do better."

Among the milestones Wednesday was the first speller to represent China. Kun Jacky Qiao is a 12-year-old seventh-grader at the Beijing BISS International School, which caters to the children of expatriates. His family moved to Canada six years ago and has since moved back to China.

Although he was visiting the United States for the first time, Jacky looked right at home. He raced through the word "rasgado" so fast and confidently that the row of officials didn't respond immediately. He then looked at the judges and said: "Correct?"

When they told him he was, he pumped both arms and traded high fives with fellow competitors on the way back to his seat.

But the competition appeared to sap his energy.

"I'm a bit sleepy right now, so my memory's, like, all gone," he said to reporters afterward. He didn't make the semifinals.

The bee has included international competitors for three decades, with two winners coming from outside the 50 states: Hugh Tosteson of Puerto Rico in 1975 and Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998.

This year's field also includes spellers from far-off places such as New Zealand, Ghana and South Korea.


On the Net:

Scripps National Spelling Bee: http://spellingbee.com/

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