Mideast edition, Thursday, May 24, 2007

WASHINGTON — An Army brat who was born in Germany and grew up in South America and Virginia finished fifth in the National Geographic Society’s annual geography bee on Wednesday.

Antonio de la Pena, who came to the competition as the Colorado state champion, narrowly missed a $10,000 scholarship as the third-place finisher on a tiebreaker question about the largest city in Switzerland: Zurich.

He was born in Ansbach while his father, Sergio, was stationed with the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, and he said the family’s travels around the world helped give him an appreciation for different places and cultures.

The eighth-grader represented Virginia in the national competition last year, but entered in Colorado this time after another military move. He said that the preliminary competition on Tuesday was stressful, but didn’t compare to Wednesday’s final round.

The top 10 finalists fielded questions from “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek in front of a crowd of more than 300 and about a dozen television cameras.

“That made me much more nervous,” he said. “It felt pretty gruesome.”

Still, both de la Pena and his father, now a colonel in the Army’s Northern Command Headquarters Company, were pleased with the outcome. He received a $500 scholarship for the fifth-place finish.

The winner, eighth-grader Caitlin Snaring from Washington, is only the second girl to earn the title in the competition’s 19 years. She sailed through both the preliminary and final rounds without missing a question.

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