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It's a rare bunch of teenagers who will spend a long weekend sweating over questions such as "What's the term for the southern half of Argentina?"

But the winners of the Great Canadian Geography Challenge, who fought through the national contest's final rounds yesterday, say they enjoy the mental exercise.

"It was a good time," said 14-year-old Denny Fyck of Kitchener, Ont., who correctly named the southern Argentine region of Patagonia to take second place -- and a $2,000 prize -- in the last question of the final quiz in Ottawa.

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"But at first it was really nerve-racking," he said. "Everybody's watching."

Jacob Cosman, 14, of Kamloops, won by only two points against Denny, who himself barely edged out Henk Venter, 15, of Shoal Lake, Man.

In addition to the family, friends, and teachers who packed the Canadian Museum of Nature for the event, contestants had to face television's Alex Trebek, who posed the questions.

Mr. Trebek, host of the Jeopardy! quiz show, told the contestants that studying geography is important.

"It's about the Earth and everything and everyone on it," Mr. Trebek said.

"If you don't know where things are, if you don't know why a certain civilization developed in one area as opposed to another area, you're missing something and you're not as well prepared to deal with the future."

Mr. Trebek was preaching to the converted. The 22 competitors in Ottawa had survived elimination rounds in their classrooms, schools, and provinces before facing off in what organizers say was the closest final event since the contest began eight years ago.

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"It was pretty exciting," said Louise Maffett, executive director of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which organizes the event each year in conjunction with the Canadian Council for Geographic Education.

Mr. Cosman will compete against winners from 20 other countries in next year's International Geography Olympiad, which is tentatively scheduled for Washington.

An avid science-fiction fan, Mr. Cosman says he wants to pursue a university education in physics or chemistry with the help of a $3,000 scholarship he won as a first-place prize.

"It's so cool. It's great," Mr. Cosman said of his new status as Canadian champion. "I love it."

Next year's final quiz could be conducted over the Internet, but the contestants say they'll miss the adrenaline rush of face-to-face competition.

"It might take some of the pressure off, but you'd also lose some of the excitement," Mr. Fyck said.

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More than 159,000 students across Canada participated this year at the school level, down 8,000 from the year before.

The final 10 contestants came from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia.

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