Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe won the 87th Spelling Bee on Thursday making history as the first Indian Americans to win the contest jointly, a first for the championship since 1962.
Hathwar, a five time veteran of the championship came as a favourite, but Sujoe, a first timer surprised everyone with a dazzling performance, forcing a draw.
“The contest was against the dictionary and not against each other,” said Hathwar, 14, of the last few rounds of the contest, when he had only Sujoe, 13, to compete against.
President Barack Obama congratulated the winners in a tweet: “Congrats to Ansun and Sriram, the incredible co-champs of the #ScrippsNationalSpellingBee. You make us all proud! -bo”.
A tie such as this is rare, and happens only when the Spelling Bee pronouncer runs out of words pre-selected for the contest — and it came to that Thursday night.
The co-champions in 1962, the first time ever, were, said Spelling Bee organizers, Nettie Crawford from El Paso, Texas and Michael Day of St. Louis, Missouri.
On Thursday, the Indian American boys set another record.
Sujoe correctly spelled “feuilleton”, which means “a part of a European newspaper or magazine devoted to material designed to entertain the general reader,” to tie Hathwar.
Co-champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Ansun Sujoe (L) of Fort Worth, Texas and Sriram Hathwar (R) of Painted Post, New York, hold up their trophy, at National Harbor, Maryland. They are the first co-champions in 52 years. (EPA Photo)
The Bee, which is open to students of up to the eighth grade, started with 11 million contestants this year, but only 281 made it to the last stages, held over two days outside DC.
Indian Americans continued their dominance of the contest, winning if for seventh consecutive year. They have swept every such contest, including the Geographic Bee.
“The children were just brilliant,” said Ratnam Chitturi, whose non-profit that trains children for the bee and other such contests is widely credited with the dominance of Indian Americans.
Four of the last five finalists on the stage Thursday night were Indian Americans. And then there were just four of them, when Mary Horton, 13, spelt “aetites” wrong.
Three of them were trained by Chitturi, including Hathwar.
Ashwini Veermani, 14-year-old eighth grader from Ohio who who came fourth, would .
His sister Anamika Veeramani won the championship in 2010.
Indian Americans rule: past champions
2008: Sameer Mishra
2009: Kavya Shivashankar
2010: Anamika Veeramani
2011: Sukanya Roy
2012: Snigdha Nandipati
2013: Arvind Mahankali