US Spelling Bee contest has eight winners, including seven Indian-origin kids

New York: Seven children of Indian-origin and an American have been named co-champions of the US National Spelling Bee after the tie among the eight couldn’t be broken even after 20 rounds of the finals.

The unusual decision to announce eight co-champions was taken Thursday night after the organisers ran out of their selection of tricky words to challenge them further.

The unprecedented move was made after round 17, when it was decided that while there were plenty of words left in the dictionary, there were only enough challenging words for three final rounds.

“We have plenty of words left on our list but will soon run out of words that would challenge you,” said the Bee’s official pronouncer Dr. Jacques Bailly, calling those remaining in the 17th round “the most phenomenal assemblage of super-spellers” in the competition’s history. The crowd agreed with a standing ovation.

The 10-year monopoly of Indian-origin children was finally broken with a non-Indian girl from Alabama, Erin Howard, becoming a co-champion.

The seven Indian-origin winners (with the final word they spelled correctly in parenthesis) are Rishik Gandhasri (auslaut), Saketh Sundar (bougainvillea), Shruthika Padhy (aiguillette), Sohum Sukhatankar (pendeloque), Abhijay Kodali (palama), Christopher Serrao (cernuous) and Rohan Raja (odylic).

The winners, who will each get $50,000 and a trophy, were the last ones standing from among the 562 participants drawn from across the US and abroad.

In the past only two co-winners were declared – most recently Indians in 2014, 2015 and 2016 – making the eight this year a record.

The national level contest held in a Washington suburb is broadcast nationally on the sports channel ESPN, giving it the character of a major sports event and a big attendance. The competition is sponsored by the media company, EW Scripps.

Thursday night’s finals went on more than an hour and half past the scheduled time with words like omphalopsychite, Geeldikkop and auftaktigkeit.

The Spelling Bee opens in school and the winners go on to competitions at the next levels and those champions go to the national competition, along with some who meet other criteria for selection.

In addition to children from all the 50 US states, students also compete from the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

Indian-origin children do well in the Spelling Bee because the Indian community prizes participation in it and several community groups and businesses organise competitions for children within the community.