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48 a-d-v-a-n-c-e in national spelling bee

Vanya Shivashankar, 8, of Olathe, Kan., spelled “euthanasia’’ yesterday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington. Vanya Shivashankar, 8, of Olathe, Kan., spelled “euthanasia’’ yesterday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)
Associated Press / June 4, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Neetu Chandak had trouble catching her breath after learning yesterday that she had made the next round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. To burn off some of the energy, she starting playing peek-a-boo with her 6-month-old cousin.

“My heart’s, like, beating,’’ she said, fanning her face with both hands. “I’m not sure if anybody can hear me. I’m thinking, ‘What if I don’t make it?’ ’’

The 14-year-old from Seneca Falls, N.Y., in the green blouse with glittering butterflies, had no reason to worry. She tackled both of her words with ease and became one of 48 spellers to advance to the semifinals.

The semifinalists are all that remain from the 273 competitors from across the United States and around the world who gathered for the three-day competition. The champion, who wins an enormous trophy and more than $40,000 in cash and prizes, will be crowned tonight in prime-time on national television.

Each of the spellers, ranging in age from 8 to 15, got to spell two words onstage under the bright lights of the Grand Hyatt ballroom. The results were combined with a written test taken Wednesday to determine the semifinalists.

Neetu, an aspiring architect and interior designer, is perhaps the biggest celebrity among this year’s spellers. She’s made the nationals for the fourth time — more than anyone else in the field — and tied for eighth in 2009. She smiled her way through “facetious’’ and didn’t hesitate as she worked her way through “hemerocallis’’ — another word for a daylily. She was trading hugs and high-fives with her fellow semifinalists after the results were announced.

Another returning finalist, Anamika Veeramani, 14, of North Royalton, Ohio, was just as steady. Anamika, who tied for fifth in her debut last year, calmly rattled off “exacerbate’’ and “foggara.’’ Anamika said she was excited to know her friends back home will be able to watch her on ESPN this morning in school.

“I’m more relaxed now,’’ Anamika said. “The studying part is pretty much done.’’

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