Reaffirming the dominance of Indian-Americans, a record seven Indian-origin students were among eight who jointly won the prestigious 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee, taking home more than USD 50,000 in cash and prizes in an "unprecedented" competition.
It is the first time in the 94-year history of the contest that more than two co-champions have been named. It was also the first time since 2007 when an American student, Erin Howard, was among the winners.
Rishik Gandhasri, 13, of California; Saketh Sundar, 13, of Maryland; Shruthika Padhy, 13, of New Jersey; Sohum Sukhatankar, 13, of Texas; Abhijay Kodali, 12, of Texas; Rohan Raja, 13, of Texas; Christopher Serrao, 13, of New Jersey and Howard, 14, of Alabama were named as co-champions.
For Rishik Gandhasri, the winning word was "auslaut." Erin Howard, spelled "erysipelas" correctly. Saketh Sundar, won on "bougainvillea." And Shruthika Padhy, won with "aiguillette." Sohum Sukhatankar, spelled "pendeloque" correctly. Abhijay Kodali, spelled "palama" right. Christopher Serrao, won with "cernuous." Rohan's winning word was "odylic."
"I was last," Rohan said after it was all over. "I had to watch everybody get applause," he said.
Each of the eight students will receive the full winner's prize of $50,000 in cash. In all, 50 of the 562 spellers reached the finals, 34 of them eliminated during the afternoon rounds.
The six boys and two girls combined to spell the final 47 words correctly over five consecutive perfect rounds in the most extraordinary ending of the competition.
"In an unprecedented display of academic achievement, eight spellers have become co-champions of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee, making history as the first group to share the coveted title in the 92 years of the storied event," the organisers tweeted.
Thursday night's finals went on more than an hour and half past the scheduled time with words like omphalopsychite, Geeldikkop and auftaktigkeit.
The competition, broadcast nationally, kicked off on Tuesday with its biggest field ever. The 565 contestants ranged in age from 7 to 14 and came from across the US and several other countries, including Canada, Ghana and Jamaica.
"Champion spellers, we are in uncharted territory," official pronouncer Jacques Bailly said.
"We do have plenty of words remaining on our list, but we'll soon run out of words that can possibly challenge you, the most phenomenal assemblage of super spellers in the history of this competition," Bailly said.
The final words spelled correctly by the co-champions include auslaut by Gandhasri, erysipelas by Howard, bougainvillea by Sundar, aiguillette by Padhy, pendeloque by Sukhatankar, palama by Kodali, cernuous by Serrao and odylic by Raja, ESPN reported.
The majority of the spellers had personal coaches, and 13 of the 16 used word lists and study materials compiled by ex-spellers Shobha Dasari and her younger brother, Shourav, it said.
The National Bee is a high-profile, high-pressure endurance test as much as a nerd spelling match and spellers spend months preparing for it.
Last year, 14-year-old Indian-American Karthik Nemmani won the National Spelling Bee, taking home more than USD 42,000 in cash and prizes. He correctly spelt "koinonia" to become the 14th Indian-American champion in 11 consecutive years.
In 2017 also, an Indian-American girl, Ananya Vinay, won the title. From 2014-2016, the bee ended with co-champions.