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Queen of spelling bee worked hard for title

Can you spell 'winner?'

Watch the word warriors battle to close finish
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List of contestants eliminated from spelling bee and words they missed

June 3, 1999
Web posted at: 11:25 p.m. EDT (0325 GMT)

In this story:

Contestant's point of view

Cringing and jumping in final round


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nupur Lala, a 14-year-old girl from Tampa, Florida, was the last of 248 contestants standing at the 72nd annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington on Thursday.

Lala credited her victory in the 12th round to her parents' drilling, "divine intervention" and her natural affinity for word sleuthing.

"I was just praying I would get a word that I knew," said the eighth-grader, who was eliminated last year in the third round of the national contest.

Lala's extensive vocabulary includes words that usually stay locked in the dictionary until a spelling bee is held.

Words like:

  • Hypsometer
  • Aquarellist
  • Quinquevir

But even so-called easy words can trip up a spelling contestant.

"Banns" proved to be one of those words for Harry Altman, 12, of Glen Rock, New Jersey.

Contestant's point of view

There's a lot of pressure on the stage, where contestants, ages 9 to 15, wait for their next word.

Don't ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for any word spelled incorrectly.

"What was the word that got you?" a reporter asked Justin Balletta, 12, of Matthews, North Carolina.

"Sashimi," Balletta said. "Some kind of Japanese word, never would have known it."

What's it like from a contestant's point of view?

You're up there on the stage, staring at the impassive faces of the judges, trying to remember the exact order of exotic words where the simple verse, "I before E, except after C," may not apply.

And if you think it's hard on the children, you should be a parent of one of the contestants.

Emily Stagg, 14, of New Haven, Connecticut, was given the word "brunneous" to spell.

Her mother hung on every letter and gasped, "That's wrong!"

But Emily was right and made it to the next round before finally tripping over "clavecin."

And don't even think about the television cameras that will point at you and let the world watch as you sweat and ponder and guess at words and hope not to hear that despicable bell.

David Behill, the winner of this year's geography bee, came back to the nation's capital this month to test his spelling ability.

"Pressure? About the same with ESPN here," said the veteran teen-age contestant. "Maybe slightly less pressure without ESPN here, but about the same."

The 13-year-old from Saluda, South Carolina, remained calm throughout. But he was done in by the word "bariolage."

Cringing and jumping in final round

When it got down to the 12th round, there were only two contestants standing.

David Lewandowski, 14, from Schererville, Indiana, cringed after misspelling "opsimath," a word describing a person who learns late in life.

"I really didn't expect to make it as far," said Lewandowski, who placed 39th in last year's bee. "I was still trying to do my best."

Then it was Lala's turn. She was given "logorrhea".

She tried to narrow the odds.

"May I have a definition?" she asked the judges.

It was: a pathologically excessive and often incoherent talkativeness.

Lala jumped with joy when she spelled it correctly.

The new spelling champion got more than applause. She won $10,000, an engraved loving cup, some CD ROMs, a $1,000 savings bond and a pair of airline tickets.

She's already planned her next move: to go on a shopping spree and use the plane tickets to take a trip to California or Hawaii.

Reporter Jonathan Aiken contributed to this report.

14-year-old Florida girl wins national spelling bee
June 3, 1999
Spellers compete for national spelling bee title
June 3, 1999
List of contestants eliminated from spelling bee
June 2, 1999
Spellers speeded up for 72nd national bee
June 1, 1999
Spelling bee squabble over qualification rule change
January 13, 1999
Jamaican girl crowned national spelling champ
May 28, 1998

The Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee
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