WASHINGTON - Two Canadian schoolgirls have advanced to the semifinals of the famous Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Twelve-year-olds Jennifer Mong of St. John's, N.L. and Mignon Tsai of Abbotsford, B.C., are among 50 competitors to go on to the semifinals following two days of tense competition.

Zhongtian Wang, 11, of Windsor, Ont., was eliminated.

In Round 2 of the spelling bee on Wednesday, Mong spelled "limousine" correctly, Tsai aced "hyacinth" but Wang got a tough one — "issei," a word for a Japanese immigrant. The audience applauded in relief when she nailed it.

In Round 3, Tsai got a difficult word: "leegte." Mong got "vaticination" right and Wang spelled "embarcadero" correctly, but her scores from a 50-word computer quiz on Tuesday didn't give her enough points to take her to the semifinal.

The 50 remaining spellers, whittled down from a field of 278, square off in the semifinal on Thursday morning at a glittering conference centre in National Harbor, Md., just down the Potomac River from the U.S. capital.

If they get past that round, they'll compete Thursday night in the final, to be aired live on ESPN.

Mong and Tsai are competing a year after Canadian Laura Newcombe took second place at the world-renowned contest.

Newcombe, now 13, came tantalizingly close to winning the contest last year in a nail-biter of a final round. The Torontonian was tripped up by the Greek word "sorites."

Canadians have been a strong presence at the Scripps competition for years, and have had several close calls. Nate Gartke and Finola Hackett of Alberta were previous runners-up.

This year's competition includes schoolkids not just from the U.S. and Canada, but from the Bahamas, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. They're all on hand to spell out words that get progressively more difficult as the contest proceeds.

The 2012 contest also featured its youngest-ever speller — six-year-old Lori Anne Madison from Woodbridge, Va.

The girl spelled her first word correctly on Wednesday — "dirigible" — but flubbed her second word, "ingluvies," and was eliminated from competition.

Most spellers at the bee are between the ages of 12 and 14 years old.


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