WASHINGTON -- Forty-three diehard champions survived today's tough fifth round of the 59th National Spelling Bee, which ended the bids of a blind girl and one competitor who was reinstated after a successful protest.
After 1 days of nearly constant work with 657 words, the remaining youngsters broke for lunch before facing the final stretch. The winner was expected to be proclaimed later today.
The blind contestant, Terra Syslo, 12, of Fullerton, Neb., missed 'streingendo,' a musical term, incorrectly substituting an 'a' for an 'i.'
Contestant Mary Beth Johnson of McKenzie, Tenn., who was reinstated to the contest in the fourth round after the judges decided to accept 'viselike' and 'vicelike,' fell on her fifth-round challenge with the word 'teaselwort,' inserting an 'a' for an 'o.'
Terra was clearly a favorite of the educators and spectators in attendance, as was Monica Van Doren, 14, of Lawrenceville, N.J., who had to read lips to get her words. Monica correctly spelled 'cornhusking' in the first round but stumbled over 'quokka' in the second and was eliminated.
The words for the first two rounds of the annual bee came from 'Words of the Champions,' a practice book distributed to competitors that contains words from previous contests.
But words in the later rounds were much harder and often the contestants stumbled over them. Both speller Dionna White of Youngstown, Ohio, and the official pronouncer, Alex Cameron, floundered in pronouncing 'asphyxiant' in the third round, but Dionna spelled it.
Jon Pennington, 14, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., tried several times but never could get out 'syncytium,' yet recited the letters flawlessly.
'Quincunx,' a certain arrangement of five things, and 'xyloglyphy,' an artistic wood carving, posed some pronunciation problems as well but were spelled perfectly.
In the first three rounds, 59 contestants were eliminated from the record field of 174 regional champion spellers -- nine in the first round, 36 in the second and 14 in the third.
A minor flap developed during the second round when two contestants charged the officials provided an incorrect definition of the word 'inoculator.' The judges huddled for five minutes and ruled the correct definition was given and Lorne Richardson of Poway, Calif., who misspelled the word, was out.
Contestants who were eliminated were taken to the 'comfort room.'
'I'll try again next year,' Kyle Klein, 11, of Frankfort, Mich., vowed through red eyes.
Another contestant who planned to give the contest another try, Bridie O'Shaugnessy, 13, of Columbus, Ohio, said, 'I'm just glad I got this far.
'I studied the words a lot, but I guess there were some I didn't get to,' she said with a laugh.
Many jittery spellers wrung their hands and bit their lips, but Marla Regazzi, 13, of Berrien Springs, Mich., sat calmly knitting a green scarf. Other more relaxed spellers included four making their third appearance in the bee and 20 second-timers.
The participants, ranging in age from 9 to 14, represented 171 newspaper sponsors from every state and the District of Columbia, Guam, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The winner gets $1,000, a trophy and several other prizes. The bee is sponsored by Scripps-Howard Newspapers, which sent 13 candidates from its newspapers, and 158 other daily, weekly and Sunday papers.