* David Scott Tidmarsh gulped back tears between each letter of autochthonous. When he finished, he covered his face and dissolved in relief: He had won the 77th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 14-year-old eighth-grader from South Bend, Indiana, had struggled to stay composed as he and second-place finisher Akshay Buddiga headed into the 14th round yesterday.

As 13-year-old Akshay stumbled through the word that would prove to be his downfall -- schwarmerei -- David hid his face behind the cardboard placard spellers wear.

"I was so nervous," David said.

Akshay, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, gave the audience a scare in the sixth round, when he collapsed onstage. But he stood up, collected himself and correctly spelled his word, alopecoid. The audience gave him a standing ovation.

David and Akshay were among the 265 spellers in the three-day competition, held in downtown Washington. Spellers ranged in age from 9 to 15. David receives $17,000 and other prizes, including an engraved cup.

More than 9 million children participated in local bees that led to the finals.

As the national bee resumed yesterday, 46 spellers remained. But the field was cut nearly in half in the tricky fifth round, as 20 spellers went down on words including belonoid, saxicolous and pignorate.

Among those eliminated was 10-year-old Samir Patel, who tied for third place in 2003. "Am I on the right track?" he asked as he tried to spell corposant. He wasn't. This year, for the first time, spellers had a strict time limit for each word: After two minutes, a bell sounded, followed by a 30-second final countdown.

Saptarshi Chaudhuri, a 12-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, needed all that time for splanchnic. But after learning the word's origins and hearing its definition (of, or relating to, the internal organs of the body; visceral) he still wasn't sure how to say it.

"Is it splank-NIT or splank-NIK?" Saptarshi asked grimly. His own "splanchnic organs" must have been twisted in knots. But the bell sounded, so he gave it a try: "splancnic." He left the stage, shaking his head.

-- Fern Shen

David Scott Tidmarsh celebrates victory in the 77th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.