Indian-origin kids are US spelling bee champs, again

Indian-origin kids are US spelling bee champs, again

The world’s premier spelling bee ended in a tie on Thursday in the US for the second year in a row after an intense 10-round showdown between two young Indian-origin contestants who tackled some of the obscurest English words.

Vanya Shivashankar, 13, and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, hoisted the gold trophy amid a flurry of confetti after they clinched the 88th Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Vanya, sister of 2009 champion Kavya Shivashankar, oozed confidence as she breezed through such words as cytopoiesis, bouquetiere and thamakau. Gokul, a basketball fanatic, also tackled words like poblacion, caudillismo and nixtamal with panache.

The two winners will each receive over $37,000 in cash and prizes. With this year’s success, young Indian-Americans have won as many as 14 of the past 18 contests and the eighth year in a row. This is also the first time a former champion’s sibling won.

When Vanya, in the 14th round, correctly spelled scherenschnitte, the German-derived word for artistic paper cutting, official bee pronouncer Jacques Bailly broke the news to Gokul. The contest, he said, was about to run out of words, and if Gokul spelled his next correctly, he and his rival would be joint winners—a repeat of last year’s surprise tie.

The winning word came so easily to the eighth-grader from St Louis, Missouri, that he skipped the routine of asking for the word’s origin, meaning and usage in a sentence. “N-u-n-a-t-a-k,” he said, spelling the Inuit-derived word for a glacial island.

Asked later what went through his mind on hearing the word, Venkatachalam candidly replied: “Me and Vanya are going to be champions.”
It was the fifth time the National Spelling Bee ended in a tie since it began in 1925.

Mysuru connection
“This is a dream come true. I’ve wanted this for such a long time,” said the eighth-grader. She dedicated her victory to her grandmother, who died last October.

Her other grandmother, Lakshmi Latha Govindappa, stays near Matha Amruthanandamayi Peetham Bogadi II Stage in Mysuru.

Coming in third was Indian-origin 14-year-old Cole Shafer-Ray, an eighth-grader from Oklahoma, who fumbled in round four on acritarch, a word for small organic fossils.


Vanya said her parents have played an important role in her accomplishment. Her mother, Sandhya Shivashankar, is an alumnus of the class of 1985 of Marimallappa’s College, Mysuru.

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