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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Snigdha Nandipati, a 14-year-old eighth grader from San Diego, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday by spelling "guetapens," a French word for ambush or trap.
"It's a miracle!" Nandipati, who reads encyclopedias for fun, said after winning the contest with her correct spelling.
Second place went to Stuti Mishra, a 14-year-old eighth grader from Orlando, Florida, who finished in second place after misspelling "schwarmerei," a German word for excessive enthusiasm.
Arvind Mahankali, a 12-year-old seventh grader from Bayside Hills, New York, finished third for a second year in a row after failing to spell "schwannoma," a kind of nerve cell tumor.
Asked what she would do with her $30,000 in prize money, Nandipati, who reads encyclopedias for fun, said: "I don't know, save it for college."
While spelling her winning word, Nandipati stood before the microphone with her hands clasped.
She spelled "admittatur," an admission certificate, "arrondissement," a French urban district, and "saccharolytic," referring to the breakdown of sugars in metabolism, on her way to the title.
Nandipati, whose grandparents flew to the contest from India, said she studied six hours a day during the week and 10 to 12 hours during the weekend.
Nandipati, Mishra and Mahankali were among nine finalists winnowed from 278 contestants who started the nation-wide spelling contest on Wednesday.
They emerged from 50 young spellers aged 10 to 14 who started Thursday's semi-final rounds and were tripped up by words including "tendenz," a literary term, and "polynee," a type of pastry.
The competition took place on stage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just south of Washington.
The audience, filled with families, was tense as the young contestants haltingly spelled words well above the reading levels of their respective grades in school.
The spellers employed a range of strategies, from writing out words on the palms of their hands with their fingers to asking for a word's language of origin.
The final competition was aired live on the ESPN Sports network.
In addition to her cash prize, Nandipati won a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a $5,000 scholarship, among other awards.
Several spellers who had been favored to do well stumbled on Thursday. Ten-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, the younger sister of 2009 champion Kavya Shivashankar, misspelled "pejerrey," a type of fish.
Six-year-old Lori Anne Madison of Woodbridge, Virginia, the youngest participant ever to qualify for the bee, failed to make it past the preliminary round after incorrectly spelling the word "ingluvies," the crop of a bird or insect.
Last year's winner was 14-year-old Sukanya Roy from South Abington Township, Pennsylvania, who spelled "cymotrichous," used to describe having wavy hair.
Editing by Greg McCune and Todd Eastham