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Where EAST meets the Northwest

THE FINAL WORD. Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, New York, hold up the trophy after being named co-champions at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee in National Harbor, Maryland. The spelling bee ended in a tie for the third consecutive year, with Hathwar and Janga declared co-champions after a roller-coaster finish. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

From The Asian Reporter, V26, #11 (June 6, 2016), page 7.

National Spelling Bee co-champions include youngest ever

By Ben Nuckols

The Associated Press

OXON HILL, Md. ó The words were tougher. The final rounds lasted longer. The result was the same.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie for the third consecutive year, with Jairam Hathwar and Nihar Janga declared co-champions after a roller-coaster finish.

Thirteen-year-old Jairam is the younger brother of the 2014 co-champion, Sriram Hathwar. Nihar, at age 11, is the youngest winner of the bee on record.

"Iím just speechless. I canít say anything," Nihar said as he hoisted the trophy. "I mean, Iím only in fifth grade!"

Scripps made the bee tougher after two consecutive ties, forcing the last two spellers to get through three times as many words as in years past.

Jairam, of Painted Post, New York, misspelled two words. But both times, Nihar, of Austin, Texas, followed up with a miss and the bee continued. Sriram also got a word wrong during his bee, but his eventual co-champion, Ansun Sujoe, flubbed his chance at the solo title.

"I thought it was over, because Nihar is so strong, such a great speller," Sriram said.

Each will receive a trophy and $45,000 in cash and prizes.

Nihar celebrated by imitating the touchdown dance of his favorite athlete, Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who sent a tweet congratulating the young speller. Jairam, meanwhile, took inspiration from golfer Jordan Spieth, particularly his ability to bounce back after bad shots.

"When I missed those two words, I didnít let them get to my head, and I just focused on the next word," Jairam said.

In another change, bee organizers didnít stick to a predetermined list of "championship words" for the last two or three spellers. No one will know whether the bee had harder words in reserve, but former spellers said Jairam and Nihar nailed the toughest words in recent memory.

Because the best spellers become fluent in Latin and Greek roots, the bee went to words derived from trickier or more obscure languages, including Afrikaans, Danish, Irish Gaelic, Maori, and Mayan.

Jairamís winning word was Feldenkrais, which is derived from a trademark and means a system of body movements intended to ease tension. Nihar won with gesellschaft, which means a mechanistic type of social relationship.

Among the words they got right: Kjeldahl, Hohenzollern, juamave, groenedael, zindiq, and euchologion.

At his best, Nihar wowed the crowd by shouting out definitions immediately after the words were announced. He looked unbeatable. But given two chances to hold the trophy by himself, he stumbled.

Nihar was in his first bee and would have had three more years of eligibility, but he canít compete again since he won. This was the 89th bee, and while Scrippsí records from early years are incomplete, the youngest known champion was Wendy Guey, who won 20 years ago at age 12. The last to win in his first attempt was Pratyush Buddiga in 2002.

Nihar said he didnít feel pressure to become the youngest winner for two reasons. First, he never expected to win. Second, most of the crowdís attention was on an even younger speller: six-year-old Akash Vukoti.

"He did pretty good for a first-grader," Nihar said. "Heís going to go places."

Nihar and Jairam have become close friends over the past year, but Nihar said he didnít consider misspelling on purpose when he had chances to win. He just didnít know the words.

"I wanted to win, but at the same time I felt really bad for Jairam," Nihar said.

Nihar and Jairamís parents are immigrants from south India, continuing a remarkable run of success for Indian-American spellers that began in 1999 with Nupur Lalaís victory, which was later featured in the documentary Spellbound. The bee has produced Indian-American champions for nine straight years and 14 out of the last 18.

Before 2014, the bee hadnít declared co-champions in more than 50 years, but now, it seems little can be done to avoid it. The competition concluded shortly before 11:00pm, with the winners having spent seven hours on stage, and bee executive director Paige Kimble has said she wouldnít consider forcing the final spellers to keep going indefinitely.

Snehaa Kumar of Folsom, California, finished third, and Sylvie Lamontagne of Lakewood, Colorado, was fourth. Both are 13-year-old eighth-graders, meaning this year was their last chance.


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