Teenage map buffs from the United States beat out their colleagues from 10 other countries for the gold medal recently in the fourth International Geography Olympiad.

The Canadian team came in second, and the Russian teenagers picked up third in the two-day National Geographic competition at the Ontario Science Center.

"I'm always fascinated by watching bright young people perform," said moderator Alex Trebek, host of the TV game show "Jeopardy!"

The winning U.S. students included David Biehl, 14, of Saluda, S.C., who won the National Geography Bee in Washington in May; Jason Borschow, 13, of San Juan, Puerto Rico; and John Kizer, 15, of Portsmouth, Ohio.

Canada, the defending champion, dazzled spectators early on, effortlessly pinpointing the home of the hawksbill turtle (the Gulf of Aqaba) and handily identifying a strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara (the Bosporus Strait).

But the U.S. team ultimately surged ahead.

"We were ahead, and then we got a bunch of zeroes," said Bryan Jansens, 13, of Calgary, Alberta. "I wish there would be one more round of questions about Canadian lakes. . . . But I guess that won't happen."

The United States, Canada and Russia entered the final after acquiring the highest combined scores in the preliminary round, which featured a written test and an outdoor map-reading course.

Students from Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore and Britain were eliminated after that round. Contestants had qualified by winning local competitions in their home countries.

Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman of the National Geographic Society, said the study of geography is increasingly relevant as societies become more global.

"Geography is crucial to international understanding. If you can bring kids together from different cultures at a young age, that's a giant step forward," he said.


1. buffs

2. crucial

3. dazzled

4. surged

5. global

6. spectators

7. eliminated

8. pinpointing

9. round

10. strait

a. very important

b. moved

c. people who watch an event

d. locating or finding exactly

e. narrow body of water

f. series; set

g. removed from competition

h. involved with the entire Earth; worldwide

i. impressed

j. people who are knowledgeable about a subject

ANSWER KEY: 1. j, 2. a, 3. i, 4. b, 5. h, 6. c, 7. g, 8. d, 9. f, 10. e