2 teens share spelling-bee title after final-round duel of words
It was just the fourth time in the bee’s history, and the first in 52 years, that winners shared the winning title.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned two winners Thursday night after a five-round duel in which neither could miss a word. In the end, Sriram Hathwar, of Painted Post, N.Y., and Ansun Sujoe, of Fort Worth, Texas, shared the prize.
It was just the fourth time in the bee’s history, and the first in 52 years, that winners shared the winning title. Other co-winners were named in 1950, 1957 and 1962.
Both boys were magnanimous in victory, with Hathwar, 14, saying the competition was against the dictionary not a human opponent. “I’m happy to share this trophy with him,” he said. Sujoe, 13, said he had been happy just making the finals and “even happier” to have won.
The winning words were Hathwar’s “stichomythia” (dialogue in Greek drama) and Sujoe’s “feuilleton” (the features section of European newspapers).
Both finalists misspelled their words in the 16th round setting up a dramatic shootout in Rounds 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22. They never got a word wrong.
Although the two teens hoisted a single trophy together onstage, each will get one to take home, and each gets the champion’s haul of more than $33,000 in cash and prizes.
In addition to their shared love of spelling, both boys play double-reeded instruments: oboe for Hathwar, bassoon for Sujoe, who also plays piano and guitar and has perfect pitch. Hathwar’s parents are both physicians, and he hopes to become an ophthalmologist.
Gokul Venkatachalam, of Chesterfield, Mo., finished third, and Ashwin Veeramani, of North Royalton, Ohio, was fourth.
Both co-champions are Indian-American. The past eight winners and 13 of the past 17 have been of Indian descent, a run that began in 1999 with Nupur Lala’s victory, which was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.”
The bee began with a written test Tuesday taken by all 281 regional champions. By Wednesday evening, all but 46 had been eliminated. That group was winnowed down to 12 for Thursday night’s contest televised on ESPN.
The 87th National Bee was held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, south of Washington, D.C.
Hathwar, a five-time national contestant, was the odds-on favorite after nailing “favus,” a hexagonal tile, and “quatrefoil,” meaning four-leafed, Thursday morning. He placed third in last year’s national bee.
Of the final 12, two were from Florida, two were from Texas, two were from Virginia, and there was one each from California, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Ohio. The lone international speller, Tajaun Gibbison, 13, was from Mandeville, Jamaica, and was bounced out in the eighth round with “chartula,” a folded paper containing medicine. This year’s finalists ranged in age from 11 to 15.
A crowd favorite in the final rounds, Kate Miller, 14, of Abilene, Texas, was sidelined by “exochorion,” the outer layer of an insect egg, and left the stage to a standing ovation. Later, she said would be taking home “a suitcase full of happy memories,” and was glad she could ignore spelling for a while.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.