Scripps National Spelling Bee crowns co-champions again

The Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam co-champions on Thursday night. 

Andrew Harnik/AP
Vanya Shivashankar, left, 13, of Olathe, Kan., and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of St. Louis, hold up the championship trophy as co-champions after winning the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

As multi-colored confetti fluttered down from the ceiling, Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam proudly held their new trophy aloft. Disqualified spellers and family members alike rose to give the pair a standing ovation, as the second pair of co-champions at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in two years.

Vanya, a 13-year-old from Olathe, Kan. and Gokul, 14, of Chesterfield, Mo., follow 2014 co-winners Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe. Last year, media outlets across the country highlighted the extraordinary moment, and the rarity of a shared title.

According to the bee's website, co-champions were declared in 1950, 1957, 1962 and 2014. This makes Vanya and Gokul the sixth co-champions since the competition began in 1925, and the unprecedented second consecutive winning pair. 

The director of the bee, Paige Kimble, had not been expecting a repeat in the near future. 

Ms. Kimble predicted last week that another half century would pass before the spelling bee declared co-champions again, the Associated Press reported.

However, the bee is getting more competitive each year, according to Kimble. She told AP that, "the bee may be entering a new era where the level of competition is so intense that we need to entertain [co-champions] as a possibility every year." 

Both winners are veterans of the national spelling bee. Vanya returned as a five-time competitor and Gokul won third place in last year's bee. 

Vanya and Gokul powered through championship words, Vanya spelling "thamakau" and "hippocrepiform," and Gokul tackling "sprachgefühl" with ease. 

In her winning moment, Vanya confidently spelled "scherenschnitte," a German term for cut-paper art, according to NPR. She dutifully asked for the word's definition and root language before giving her answer.

Gokul was more nonchalant in his approach. He spelled "nunatak" (an Inuit word describing an exposed, often rocky element peeking through a glacier) without even asking for a definition, rushing through the word in one breath. 

Vanya's sister, Kavya, won the competition in 2009, making Vanya the first sibling of a previous champion to win the spelling bee. 

Both winners will receive more than $37,000 in cash and prizes as well as a national title to add to their list of accomplishments. 

Vanya, who dedicated her win to her late grandmother, aspires to be a doctor or an actress, as the Associated Press reported.

Gokul, who wants to someday be a stockbroker or entrepreneur, told ESPN that the championship title is "a culmination of all the hard work I've put into the past six years. I've dealt with defeat and success and I'm finally happy to have success." 

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