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US Students Map a Route to Victory in National Geography Bee - 2004-05-26

For the past 16 years, the National Geographic Society has held a geography bee to help promote an understanding of the planet among America's youth. The students at this year's competition in Washington had a tough fight for the $25,000 grand prize.

Together, Heard Island and the Macdonald Islands are an external territory of what country? Australia. Yes! Name the only landlocked country on the IndoChina peninsula. Laos. Yes!

The 10 finalists in the National Geographic Bee were drilled with such questions in order to find a winner. The trivia had to be tough - after all, these were the top 10 of an original five million students, ages 10 to 15, to enter in the United States and its territories.

The host of the long-running American television quiz show Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, moderated the 16th annual event. The final question was, "Peshawar, a city in the northwest frontier province of Pakistan, has had strategic importance for centuries because of its location near what historic pass?" "The correct response is the Khyber Pass, and that means that Andrew Wojtanik from [the U.S. state of] Kansas, congratulations young man, you are the 2004 National Geographic Bee champion," he said.

Andrew, a 14-year-old who hopes to visit all 55 U.S. national parks, compiled a 432-page book to help him study for the event. "It has got everything you need to know about a country. Its currency, its ethnic groups, its mountains, rivers, all that stuff," he said.

Others out of the 55 finalists in the national competition studied atlases, National Geographic books, and travel guides.

Although there could only be one winner, many of the students seemed to feel like they were already accomplished by being here.

Karan Takhar, 13, who competed last year as well, said he hopes to try again next year. He said he learned a lot. "The best part is you got to persevere no matter what, uh, if you do not win at this one, if you do not do good, you try again, and the knowledge that you take away from this, whether you win or lose, is just so vast and it will help you later on in life, and it was a great experience," he said.

For those who made it to the top 10 in last year's or this year's competition, the experience is not necessarily over. They are eligible to apply for an international geography bee scheduled for July 2005.

For now, the kids in this year's event are headed into summer breaks from school.