Thirteen-year-old Arvind Mahankali won the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee championship on Thursday by correctly spelling ‘knaidel,’ a Yiddish word of German origin meaning dumpling.
Mahankali, an eighth grader from New York, is the sixth Indian-American in a row to win the prestigious competition.
In his previous three attempts Mahankali had struggled with words of German origin. And the audience knew it. So when pronouncer Jacques Bailly gave Mahankali the championship word, he allowed himself a thin smile. The audience, nervous for him, cracked up.
But he managed it nicely. “The German curse became a German blessing for me,” he said later.
“He worked really hard on words of German origin this year,” said his father Srinivas Mahankali, who is from Hyderabad. He would get up at 5 in the morning during weekends to work on words. That’s the kind of hard work that goes into turning a curse into blessing.
Out of the 281 competitors this year around 50 were of Indian origin.
Two of them, however, received a little extra attention -- Vanya Shivashankar and Ashwin Veeramani, younger siblings of former Spelling Bee winners.
Their victory would have created a record for the championship. But it didn’t happen.
Veeramani didn’t make it to the final. And Shivashankar crashed out of the final on a word she had never seen before: Zenaida, a type of pigeon. As the bubbly sixth grader from Kansas left the stage, she betrayed no emotions.
“I am very proud of her,” said her father, Mirle Shivashankar. “A true sign of character is how you handle failure -- and she did so well.” But she will be back next year.
The Bee is open to students till the eighth grade.
This was Mahankali’s last chance. In an after-interview, he said he can now retire on a good note.
He plans to “spend the summer studying physics”.
That’s what he wants to do - study physics. And the prize money of $30,000 is going straight to the bank to fund his college education.