OXON HILL, Maryland (AFP)
A 14-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants clinched the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday by correctly spelling an obscure French word for ambush, snare or trap.
"G-U-E-T-A-P-E-N-S," said Snighda Nandipati, an eighth-grade student from San Diego, California, to become the fifth American youngster of south Asian origin to win the venerable competition in as many consecutive years.
"I knew it. I'd seen it before," Nandipati, the daughter of a software consultant, confided afterwards as she collected the spelling bee's coveted gold cup and $30,000, which she plans to put aside for university.
As for what it's like to win, after going head-to-head for three rounds with runner-up Stuti Mishra, also 14, of Orlando, Florida, Nandipati -- sporting glasses and orthodontic braces -- simply replied: "It's a miracle."
Third place went to Arvind V. Mahankali, 12, a New Yorker who was thrown for a loop by a word he'd never heard before -- schvonoma, a form of nerve tumor. He vowed to study harder and return next year.
Some 278 youngsters took part in this year's three-day National Spelling Bee at a resort outside Washington, out of more than 11 million who competed in events at some level in the United States and several countries overseas.
This year featured the youngest-ever competitor, six-year-old Lori Anne Madison, of Woodbridge, Virginia, who suffered elimination Wednesday when she misspelled ingluvies, a noun that means the crop or craw of birds.
"I knew the word. It was just too bad that I misspelled the word," the precocious blonde crowd-pleaser -- one of 28 home-schooled contestants this year -- told reporters earlier in the day.
Sponsored by the Scripps media group, this year's National Spelling Bee also included competitors from as far afield as the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Jamaica's Gifton Samuel Wright, one of Thursday's nine finalists, won a 30-second standing ovation after he faltered on the word harengiform, an adjective that means herring-shaped.
Organizers announced Tuesday that plans are afoot for a global spelling bee as early as December 2013, reflecting what they called "a fast-growing worldwide passion for the English language."
The tension in the cavernous ballroom of the Gaylord National Resort was palpable as anxious families hoped and prayed for their youngsters to get their words right and avoid the dreaded desk bell that signals a fatal error.
On stage, however, camaraderie prevailed among the finalists who high-fived and fist-bumped each other when they cleared such unusual dictionary entries as distelfink, chatoyant, luteovirescent and schwarmerei.
Nandipathi, an aspiring neurosurgeon, said she studied six hours every weekday -- and 10 to 12 hours on Saturdays and Sundays -- for the chance to attend the finals.
"She's a high-demanding kid," unlike her younger brother who prefers tennis and other sports, father Krishnarao Nadipati, a software consultant for mobile technology firm Qualcomm, told AFP.
But the schoolgirl was not without some cutting-edge help, in the form of a computer program that her father developed over two years just for her that included 40,000 virtual flashcards and a knowledge-testing function.
Her parents immigrated to the United States in 1995 from the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, her mother Madhavi Nandipati said.