OXON HILL, Md. — Until last year, it hadn’t happened for more than five decades.
Now, they’ve done it for the second year in a row: Two competitors tied to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday.
Vanya Shivashankar, 13, of Olathe, Kansas, and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of Chesterfield, Missouri, were declared co-champions.
Why? There weren’t enough words left on the competition’s list for them to keep facing off until only one was left standing.
Vanya correctly spelled the word “scherenschnitte” and Gokul correctly spelled the word “nunatak.”
In this year’s national championship, 285 spellers competed for the title.
The contest finished Thursday night with the finals broadcast live on ESPN.
Even the competition’s announcers marveled at the finalists’ cool demeanor as the bee stretched into its final moments.
Some contestants fidgeted and lost their breath at the microphone.
Not Vanya and Gokul.
“They’re as calm and cool under pressure as anyone we’ve ever seen here,” one of the ESPN announcers said.
“It may be impossible to stump these two tonight,” he said later.
And ultimately, it was.
Vanya, an eighth grader at California Trail Middle School, has competed in the national bee four other times. Last year, she tied for 13th place.
Her older sister, Kavya, was the 2009 National Spelling Bee champion.
In addition to her love of spelling, Vanya also plays tuba and piano.
This isn’t Vanya’s first major competition victory. She also won Lifetime’s “Child Genius” show earlier this year, getting $100,000 for her college education.
“This is a dream come true. I can’t believe I’m up here. I’ve wanted this for such a long time,” she said on ESPN after winning Thursday’s competition. “I’m dedicating this to my grandma, because she passed away in October of 2013, and all she really wanted was her grandkids to do so well, and I hope I make her happy with this.”
The Henrico County middle school student who participated in the spelling bee came in seventh place.
Tejas Muthusamy, from Moody Middle School, misspelled “tartarean,” which means “of, or relating to hell.”
Tejas was also in last year’s competition.
A lucky jersey?
Gokul, an eighth grader at Parkway West School, came in third place in last year’s competition.
He said NBA star LeBron James is his idol; he wore the Cleveland Cavaliers star’s jersey under his shirt during Thursday’s finals.
“I like him because he does many things well rather than focusing on just one aspect of his game,” the teen said as he described his hero in an interview with ESPN before the competition.
“Hopefully after losing a couple times and experiencing failure, I hope to win like LeBron,” he said before the competition.
After his victory Thursday, Gokul said the competition was a culmination of six years of hard work.
“I’ve dealt with defeat and success,” he said during the live broadcast. “I’m finally happy to have success.”
The teen told ESPN he also has a prediction for his favorite basketball player, who’s heading into the NBA Finals next week.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, he said, will beat the Golden State Warriors in a six-game series.