Laura Newcombe, 11, of Toronto sits almost alone as contestants thin out during the semifinal round of the 2010 Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, June 4, 2010. Photo by Canwest News Service
It was a cruel irony for a girl who hails from a bilingual country.
Laura Newcombe, Canada's lone competitor at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, was eliminated from the finals on Friday night when she was asked to spell "confiserie," the French word for a sweets shop.
Sure, it hurt - "I knew that word. I wanted to get out on a word I didn't know," Laura said - but the 11-year-old Toronto girl remained her magnanimous self as she joined her parents onstage afterwards to cheer on her fellow spellers.
As the loss sunk in, so did her success.
After coming in 17th at Scripps last year, Laura managed to meet her goal at this year's competition: To make the top 10.
And, at 11, Laura was the youngest speller in the finals. The other competitors were all either 13 or 14 years old.
In the end, she tied with three other spellers for 5th place.
"I'm happy," Laura said, dancing slightly during one of many commercial breaks.
The word, "confiserie," meaning a shop where sweet edibles are made, sold, and served, caused marked confusion on Laura's face during Round 7.
She was even asked to step away from the microphone to watch the pronouncer Jacques Bailly's lips.
Laura spelled the word, "C-O-L-F-E-A-S-E-R-I-E."
When she realized her mistake, the Grade 7 student from Toronto slapped her forehead and sighed, "Oh!"
In the end, the Scripps winner was Anamika Veeramani, 14, from North Royalton, Ohio, who came in 5th last year.
The last speller standing during Round 8 after three competitors in a row fell, Anamika correctly spelled "juvia," which means a Brazil nut.
After that, she had one more word to spell to take Round 9, and the championship.
She correctly spelled "stromuhr," a word of German and French origin that means an instrument for measuring viscous substances.
"This is one of the best moments of my life," said Anamika, following her win. She also said she's studied the winning word, after falling to another German word last year.
Along with honour of her title and an engraved trophy, Anamika wins over $40,000 in cash, scholarships and prizes.
Laura goes home with $2,500 and some commemorative prizes.
During the competition, Laura was repeatedly singled out by American sportscasters as "the one to watch."
Even host Chris Harrison, of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette reality TV show fame (hey, these kids are mature), commented on Laura's determination.And rightly so - earlier in the day, Laura made it through the semifinals by spelling three words: scrannel, which means a thin and grating sound on the ears; nematodiasis, an infestation with worms; thalassian, a variety of turtles with feet modified into paddles.
When she was asked to spell "scrannel" in Round 6, Laura took almost her full two minutes and 30 seconds. She hadn't heard of the word.
"It was an educated guess," she said.
Of the 10 finalists competing, seven had participated in past bees
The word that caused the loudest reaction from the crowd during the finals, easily, occurred during Round 7.
Shantanu Srivatsa, 13, from West Fargo, N.D., was asked to spell the nearly unpronounceable "infundibuliform," which means having the form of a funnel or cone.
Shantanu spelled the word without hesitation, eliciting an eruption of cheers from the audience.
Later, in Round 8, he fell to "ochidore," the name for any numerous types of crabs living between the tide marks, when he spelled it "O-C-O-D-O-R."
As for Laura, she's already thinking about her competing again in her native country's spelling bee.
"There's always next year," she said, smiling brightly.
And across Canada, the competition gulped.