NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND: The US-born son of immigrants from India overcame his dread of German-derived words on Thursday to win the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Confetti rained on a suddenly speechless Arvind Mahankali, 13, from New York City, after he correctly spelled knaidel, a type of dumpling perhaps better known as a matzah ball.
He becomes the sixth youth of south Asian heritage to win the coveted title in the last six years, and also the first male champion since 2008.
Mahankali, the eldest son of an IT consultant father and a physician mother, had placed ninth in 2010, then third in 2011 and 2012. More often than not, it was obscure English words of Germanic origin that denied him victory.
“The German curse has turned into a German blessing,” he quipped after besting eight other finalists in a nail-biting finale to nationally televised competition that kicked off Tuesday with 281 contestants from eight nations.
Earlier in the evening, Mahankali aced such words as tokonoma (an alcove in a Japanese living room), kaumographer (someone who prints a design onto cloth with a hot iron), and galere (a group of people who have something in common).
The forward-looking youngster plans to save the $30,000 cash prize—plus a $2,500 US savings bond—for college, where he hopes to get a doctorate degree in physics by the time he’s 23 years old.
“I hope to make some kind of major contribution” after university, he said. “I’ll see how it looks.”
Second place went to Pranav Sivakumar, 13, from Illinois, while Sriram Hathwar, 13, from New York, came in third. Amber Born, 14, from Massachusetts, a crowd-pleaser with her tension-breaking jokes, finished forth.
The youngest finalist, Vanya Shivashankar, 11, from Kansas, the sister of 2009 champion Kavya Shivashankar, fell in the fifth round after a strong and engaging performance.