Toronto girl takes second at Scripps National Spelling Bee
Laura Newcombe, 12, of Toronto, Canada, reacts to spelling 'sorites' incorrectly during the finals of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hills, Md., Thursday, June 2, 2011. (AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - Canada's Laura Newcombe came tantalizingly close to winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, finishing second in the pressure-packed event which pitted hundreds of competitors against each other.
Newcombe, a Toronto eighth-grader, faltered on the Greek word "sorites," misspelling it psorites. The three-time Canadian spelling champ was one of only two diehard competitors left standing, of 13 finalists, when she was knocked out.
The 12-year-old, who was trying to become the first Canadian to win the bee, had a look of concentration which give way to an expression of sadness when she realized she misspelled the word, which means a form of argument.
Canadians have been a strong presence at the competition for years, and have had several close calls. Nate Gartke and Fionla Hackett of Alberta were previous runners-up.
Newcombe lost to Sukanya Roy of Pennsylvania, who won on the word "cymotrichous," which means wavy hair. Roy receives more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.
An emotional Newcombe didn't want to say much to the media following the event, and tried to slip past reporters before stopping to talk briefly.
"She was really good," Newcombe said of Roy. "Hopefully one of our spellers next year might win."
Newcombe's mother, Zeu Ming Wong, praised her daughter.
"She was great," Wong said. "It has been a great experience. Any of those kids up on that stage were great ... any of them could have won."
Earlier Thursday, Newcombe and fellow Canadian Veronica Penny, 13, made it to the final, joining 11 other youngsters, all of them American, who were then challenged to spell words that would stump most adults. The mind-benders included words like uayeb and furcocercous.
There was a definite Canadian flavour in the crowd as the finals got underway, with Newcombe's older sister and grandparents waving small Canadian flags.
Penny was knocked out earlier Thursday night, being unable to handle the word "rougeot," which is a disease that afflicts grapes. Penny made a ballerina-type wave as she walked off the stage and said later the competition had been "really tense."
Meanwhile, the poised and good-humoured Newcombe breezed through the first several rounds of the final, nailing the spellings of rapprochement, attacca, ingberlach, caciocavallo, cheongsam, huipil, pelerine, bourride, grison, panguingue and hooroosh with confidence.
The competition, however, was a nail-biter. It started out with 275 spellers, who were whittled down to 41 semi-finalists.
The tension was thick, and the crowd collectively sighed in pain as the various finalists were eliminated from the event as it aired live in American primetime on ESPN.
The heartbreak was compounded by the fact most competitors were stoic when eliminated; one boy swatted away his parents when they attempted to embrace him in comfort.
The competition's final five were intense, taking the bee into fifteen rounds, way past bedtime and well beyond the time slot allotted by ESPN for its telecast.
When only Roy and Newcombe were left standing, the Torontonian asked the judges at one point if they were "tired yet?"
But Roy couldn't be beat. She said she knew every word that was given to her -- never having to guess -- thanks to months of preparation.
"I went through the dictionary once or twice," she said, "and I guess some of the words really stuck."
With files from the Associated Press