• Spencer Zhao, Jacob Burnley and Kyle Richardson pore over a map of St. Petersburg at the National Geographic World Championship. (Photo: Rebecca Hale/National Geographic)

It came down to a nail-biting tiebreaker question, but Team Canada pulled through to win the silver medal at this year’s National Geographic World Championship.

After the U.S. team took first place in the final round of competition, Canada and India were tied, forcing a sudden death round where Canada answered the tiebreaking question correctly to snag the silver.

“This is really a unique experience for me,” says fifteen-year-old team member Spencer Zhao “It is a great honour to represent Canada.”

Zhao, along with teammates Kyle Richardson, 16, and Jacob Burnley, 15, represented Canada at the championship in St. Petersburg, Russia. They were chosen out of 50,000 Canadian students in grades four to 10, who competed in the Great Canadian Geography Challenge in the last two years.

In the first challenge, teams were sent out into the streets of St. Petersburg to capture the city's cultural landscape in photographs. (Photo: Rebecca Hale/National Geographic)

Spencer Zhao (left) congratulates his teammates. (Photo: Rebecca Hale/National Geographic)

The team faced off against India and the United States in the final round. (Photo: Rebecca Hale/National Geographic)

“These young men exuded confidence and could not have been better ambassadors for both Canada and The Royal Canadian Geographical Society,” says Ellen Curtis, education program manager for the society. “I am so proud of these three young men. They are more composed and well-spoken than I could have dreamt of being at 16, let alone now.”

The championship takes place every two years, with students all over the world battling for top geographic bragging rights.

For the first two rounds of the championship, teams were given digital cameras to capture St. Petersburg’s cultural landscape and had to answer a set of written questions.

In the final round, hosted by Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek, teams and individual members had to answer a series of geography questions in a game-show format. After eight rounds, the U.S. team was first, with Team Canada and Team India tied for second. To break the tie, Canada and India’s teams had to figure out a place in the world from clues given. Team Canada answered correctly with Easter Island.

Trebek says that geographic education is more important now than ever. “The world is a much smaller place now. With cell phones and iPads, we can communicate with people on the other side of the Earth in seconds. The more we can know about each other, the better [we] can deal with, understand and accept each other.”

Since the competition began in 1995, Team Canada has ranked in the top three in all but one championship.

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