It’s a tie! Again!
Nihar Saireddy Janga, 11, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, were both named champions of the 89th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday – making Janga the youngest champ on record.
The two boys went head-to-head for more than 20 rounds, in a final showdown lasting more than an hour. In the end, the two superstar spellers were named co-champs – the third year in a row the Bee has ended in a tie.
It was a nail-biting competition that almost ended in a clean victory for Janga after his competitor dropped two words.
First, Hathwar missed “drahthaar” (a German dog). All Janga had to do was spell two more words correctly to achieve victory. He got “rafraichissoir” (a table of the 18th century) correct, but flubbed on “ayacahuite” (a large Mexican pine tree).
Hathwar was then given a chance to redeem himself – but botched again a few rounds later, on “mischsprache” (a language arisen from a mixture of two or more previously existing languages). Yet again, Janga was given a chance to take the top prize, but made a mistake on “tetradrachm” (“an ancient Greek silver coin”).
Once the two made it to the 25th round without any more misspellings, they were each crowned co-champions. Their winning words? Janga’s was “gesellschaft” (a type of social relationship). Hathwar’s was “feldenkrais” (a method of movement).
The two – who are both friends – each take home $40,000 in cash and other prizes.
Janga, of Austin, Texas, took the youngest champ on record title from Wendy Guey, who won the top prize 20 years ago at age 12. (Scripps notes that early records from the competition are incomplete).
“I’m just speechless,” Janga said upon winning. “I can’t say anything. I’m only in fifth grade.”
During his victory pose, Janga crossed his arms in an homage to football player Dez Bryant’s signature touchdown move. The Dallas Cowboys receiver congratulated the speller on Twitter, offering him tickets to a game.
Hathwar, of Painted Post, New York, isn’t the only National Spelling Bee-winner in the family. His brother, Sriram, was a co-winner in 2014 after also misspelling a word (“corpsbruder,” a comrade in a German student corps).
Snehaa Ganesh Kumar, 13, placed third in the competition. The Folsom, California-native only lasted one round against Nihar and Jairam, spelling the word “usucapion” (a mode of acquiring a title to property) incorrectly.
This year for the first time in the history of the Scripps-Bee, a first-grader qualified for the competition. Six-year-old Akasha Vukoti, of San Angelo, Texas, was eliminated in the preliminary rounds, going out on his second on-stage word, “bacteriolytic” (meaning the destruction of bacteria).
The finals, which aired live on ESPN from the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor, Maryland, featured the top 10 finalists, whittled down throughout the week from 284 contestants.