Two students spelled their way to a first place tie in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the second year in a row that a deadlock has occurred.
Vanya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kan., and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of Chesterfield, Mo., each correctly spelled through the list of 11 championship words to take the winning title.
Once they finished the list, the judges in the competition held Thursday night in Washington, D.C., declared Vanya and Gokul co-victors.
Last year judges awarded two spellers first place for the first time in the competition’s 52-year history.
For Vanya, winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee runs in the family. Her sister, Kavya Shivashankar, was the 2009 champion.
Vanya carefully made her way through 18 words starting with “pistachio.” But the list quickly ventured into lesser-known words.
On her list of championship words were: bouquetiere, thamakau, tantieme, urgrund, myrmotherine, zimocca, hippocrepiform, scacchite and bruxellois.
As she slowly dictated each letter to the judges, Vanya traced her winning word on her palm.
She correctly spelled “scherenschnitte” — a German art in which paper is cut into decorative designs — to secure her position as co-champion in her fifth year at the national contest.
Gokul's word list was no easier. It included: caudillismo, scytale, cypseline, filicite, sprachgefuhl, nixtamal, paroemiology, pipsissewa and pyrrhuloxia.
The spelling bee stage was not a new environment for Gokul. He competed in three previous Scripps bees, including last year’s, where he placed third behind the co-champions.
Gokul knew his winning word — “nunatak,” an Inuit word describing a hill or mountain surrounded by glacial ice — and spelled it immediately, without any definitions or clues to which language the word came from.
“I knew it right away,” he told the Associated Press. “I just didn't want to keep everyone waiting.”
Both winners earned more than $30,000 in prizes from sponsors of the contest, including Scripps, Words with Friends, Merriam-Webster and Encyclopedia Britannica.
Vanya and Gokul are both Indian American, a common background for spelling bee winners. In 12 of the last 16 Scripps National Spelling Bees, the winners had roots in South Asia.