I am writing about a competition I won in which I got third place. I want to say that I am the first out of my school to get an award in this competition, with a third place award but that sounds a little bulky. What would be a short phrase or word to describe this. I am thinking maybe I can say "I placed in the competition" but I am not sure that will work.
You're perfectly right, we use the general term "place".
I was the first in my school to place in the annual spelling bee.
You could also use "award" without specifying which.
I won an award at the annual poker competition.
For the Olympics, since they award medals, they use "medaled".
He medaled in three events at the 2000 Olympics.
The correct term is runner up: the competitors who do not win a contest but who place ahead of the majority of the contestants and share in prizes or honors, as those who place second, third, and fourth, or in the top ten.
'I was the first person from my school to be a runner up in the competition'.
In competitions consisting of multiple rounds or stages of competition which progressively narrow the pool of competitors, it is sometimes acceptable to use the term "broke," "broke into," or "advanced to" to describe making it to the next stage.
"My basketball team broke the finals at the local competition." "I broke into finals at the baking competition." "The young competitor advanced to the finals at the spelling bee."
All of these imply that the competitor "placed" in the final round of competition, but signify the action of progressing moreso than the placement itself.