By Ian Simpson
OXON HILL Md. (Reuters) – A tense championship faceoff at the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie on Thursday, with co-winners declared for the first time in 52 years.
Sriram Hathwar, an eighth grader from Painted Post, New York, and Ansun Sujoe, a seventh grader from Fort Worth, Texas, battled head-to-head through six rounds before judges ruled the contest a tie.
“It was a surprise to me, I guess,” Hathwar said of the tie after he and Sujoe raised the championship trophy before a cheering crowd in a hotel ballroom.
Hathwar and Sujoe were the last ones standing after third-place finisher Gokul Venkatachalam, a seventh grader from St. Louis, went out on “Kierkegaardian”.
The spelling contest seemed over when Hathwar misspelled “corpsbruder”, but Sujoe slipped on the next word, “antigropelos”, and the faceoff was on.
The see-saw match before a primetime ESPN audience ended after Hathwar nailed “stichomythia”. Pronouncer Jacques Bailly told Sujoe that if he spelled the next word correctly he and Hathwar would be co-winners.
Sujoe went to the microphone, Hathwar behind him. Bailly gave him “feuilleton”, and the bow-tied Sujoe rolled his eyes to the ceiling. He slowly spelled it correctly, ending the 22nd round overall in the two-day Bee and the crowd erupted.
The two each will receive a $30,000 cash prize. The tie was the first since 1962 and only the fourth in the 87-year history of the Bee.
Under contest rules, when two or three finalists remain, they face a 25-word championship word list. When the list runs out, co-champions are declared.
Hathwar and Sujoe are the seventh and eighth Indian Americans in a row to win the Bee, a centerpiece of Americana for decades.
They emerged winners in a contest limited to those in eighth grade and younger. This year the Bee started with more than 11 million students across the United States and in at least seven foreign countries.
One of the 12 finalists said she was relieved that the Bee and the long months of preparation were finally over.
“I’m going to go home and watch every horror movie on which I can get my hands,” said Kate Miller, a 14-year-old eighth grader from Abilene, Texas, who went out on “exchorion”, part of an insect egg.
(Editing by Michael Perry)