Two Indian Americans jointly win Scripps National Spelling Bee championship

Sriram Hathwar, Ansun Sujoe’s incredible performance.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: For the first time since 1962, the Scripps National Spelling Bee ended in a tie on Thursday night, with two Indian American contestants sharing the top prize.

Ansun Sujoe (left) and Sriram Hathwar shake hands after winning the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee (courtesy of ESPN)
Ansun Sujoe (left) and Sriram Hathwar shake hands after winning the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee (courtesy of ESPN)

Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe were named co-champions of the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee at around 10:30 PM, after an exhausting day at Maryland’s National Harbor that saw both young men come precipitously close to losing the title. Each spelled a word incorrectly at one point, but each was saved by a technicality that ultimately helped lift them to victory.

Hathwar, who was the youngest finalist of the competition years ago when he was eight, spelt stichomythia correct, and then Sujoe, of Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, hazarded a correct guess at the word feuilleton. He seemed nervous before he spelt it, saying “whatever” before he uttered it correctly to the delight of the audience, and his family.

Not that the competition was a cakewalk. With words like gemeinschaft and feuilleton, Hathwar and Sujoe were not spelling simple words by any means. In fact, both heaved huge sighs of relief when it was finally announced that the organizers of the bee had simply run out of words to throw at them, declaring both to be co-champions at the end of a historic spelling bee.

Hathwar is a 14 year-old eighth grader from Painted Post, New York, and was sponsored by his local Corning Rotary Club. Sujoe is from Fort Worth, Texas, and was sponsored by Texas Christian University. He is 13 years old, and is in seventh grade. The maximum grade a contestant can be in is eighth grade, meaning this was Hathwar’s last chance for the title.

For Hathwar, the victory was the culmination of a five-year journey, having been at the Scripps National Spelling Bee each of the last four years, and having done progressively better each time. Last year, Hathwar ended in third place, a heartbreaker that he can now put behind him as he hoists the trophy.

Both Hathwar and Sujoe were incredibly calm under pressure, and gracious in light of having to share the trophy. Both said that it didn’t bother them at all, and that they were proud to be standing next to each other at center stage, when the limelight and confetti were all on them.

“We knew we were not competing against each other, but against the dictionary,” said Hathwar, holding the trophy with Sujoe.

With their victory now complete, Indian Americans have now won seven straight Scripps National Spelling Bee titles. Going back to 1999, only five of the competitions – those in 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007 – have not ended in victory for contestants of Indian origin.

This year, six of the top 12 finalists were of Indian descent. By the time the competition whittled down to the top four contestants, all were Indian Americans, all males. That makes it the second time in a row that the top three contestants at the Scripps National Spelling Bee were all Indian American boys.

Although they split the top prize, both Hathwar and Sujoe will get the $30,000 cash prize that the winner is awarded. The winner of the competition also gets a $2,500 savings bond from Merriam-Webster, and $1,200 worth of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica, but it is unclear if each young man will receive these.

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