Spellers from Texas, N.Y. state battle to tie in U.S. Spelling Bee

Fri May 27, 2016 6:08am EDT
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By Ian Simpson

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (Reuters) - Nihar Janga, a fifth-grader from Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, a seventh-grader from Painted Post, New York, were named co-champions of the U.S. Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday after battling 25 rounds head to head.

The late-night duel twice saw Nihar, 11, fail to capitalize on mistakes by Jairam, 13, and claim the title outright.

They ended co-winners when Jairam nailed "feldenkrais," a method of education, and Nihar aced "gesellschaft," a type of social relationship.

"I'm just speechless," Jairam told reporters after the contest that was televised on cable network ESPN and repeatedly saw the audience in a hotel ballroom burst into cheers.

Nihar, the youngest champion since 2002, thanked his mother and added: "I can't say anything. I'm just in fifth grade."

Jairam and Nihar will each receive a $40,000 cash prize. The tie is the third in a row in the Bee, a U.S. institution since 1925. The contest had instituted a 25-round spell-off to try and avoid just such a deadlock.

Nihar dazzled the audience by his grasp of words. When given "biniou," he asked pronouncer Jacques Bailly, "Is that a Breton bagpipe?" then whizzed through it with head down, hands at side and shifting slightly foot to foot.

Given "taoiseach," he said, "Is that an Irish word for prime minister?" and nailed it, bringing cheers from the crowd.   Continued...

May 26, 2016; National Harbor, MD, USA; Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y. (L), and Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas (R), celebrate as co-champions during the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Powers-USA TODAY NETWORK