National Spelling Bee winner Harini Logan, finalists celebrate in DC


National Spelling Bee winner Harini Logan, finalists celebrate in DC

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Going into the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night, Harini Logan felt the weight of the past: the years of study, her three previous attempts that failed, her furious preparation for that one last shot at the championship before she got old competition.

The next morning, the 14-year-old eighth grader dreamed of the future. She had just won the bee after a crucial, heartbreaking 90-second suspension and was already making plans for her $50,000+ prize.

Harini said she’ll save some of that for college — she dreams of going to Stanford University to study medicine and business — and she hopes to learn about investing in the stock market. But she also wants to set up a fund “to help students in disadvantaged areas where they can’t get access to the bee, even if they want to.”

Runner-up Vikram Raju, 12, had a different opinion on his $25,000 prize.

“I don’t know what to do with it yet,” he said, “because I’m not really good at figuring out what to do with my money.”

Texas’ Harini Logan wins National Spelling Bee in first-ever spell-off

Both spellers had been here before. Vikram, from Aurora, Colorado, ranked 51st in 2019 and 21st last year. Harini, who is from San Antonio, placed 323rd in 2018, 30th in 2019, and 31st in 2021. She had seen the 2020 competition canceled due to the pandemic and the 2021 competition being partially conducted virtually.

“My fourth and final time definitely has a gravity,” Harini said on Friday. after three days of competition at National Harbor. “I’m just so lucky and grateful to have my last bee in person.”

As the winner, Harini receives $50,000 in cash, a commemorative medal and the official championship trophy from the bee; $2,500 in cash and a reference library from Merriam-Webster; and Encyclopaedia Britannica reference books valued at $400. Vikram receives a medal and $25,000 in cash.

Prizes aren’t the only reward. at At breakfast on Thursday, the finalists learned they would be visiting the White House on Friday and “erupted in cheers,” said Corrie Loeffler, editor of Scripps National Spelling Bee. (The Bidens weren’t home, but it “was great,” Vikram said.) A banquet, awards ceremony and farewell party will be held on Friday evening at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Traditionally, the celebrations end with a dance party.

Vikram Raju, 12, of Aurora, Colorado, danced outside the White House on June 3 with Jacques Bailly, the official spokesman for the bee. (Video: The Washington Post)

The bee extended late into Thursday night, culminating in the first runoff in the history of the competition between Harini and Vikram. The spell-off rule was added last year, Löffler explained, but didn’t use it. Part of the reasoning, she said, was that contestants had learned “thousands and thousands of words” just to be quizzed with a handful, so a rapid-fire tiebreak would give them “the greatest possible chance to show how.” much they have learned.”

Another part of the thinking, especially for young children who are still spelling before midnight: “At some point,” Löffler said, “the contest has to end.”

The finalists had rehearsed a ban, she said, and knew it was a possibility.

“It was threatening,” said Harini, who had started practicing quick spelling a month or two before the competition. “Anyway, I was a bit worried, and the fact that it actually ended up being banned was a bit unreal.”

Vikram was first, initially hitting 12 spellings, ranging from “spealbone” (“the scapula used by magicians or medicine men in divination”) to “teosinte” (a grass native to Central and South America), finishing with 15 tried out of 19 correct words.

Harini fired off the same 12 to start, but she worked faster, totaling 26 words and spelling 22 correctly. Her last seven words, which Vikram never reached, ranged from “chorepiscopus” (a rank of Catholic bishop) to “moorhen” (a red-beaked waterfowl).

Vikram and his family planned to stay in DC until Sunday after exploring some Smithsonian museums, his mother Sandhya Ayyar said. A few Colorado news outlets asked if they could meet him at the airport after he landed, Ayyar said; one asked him to fill in as a weatherman for a day. He’s considering it, he said.

“You know, it was quite an overwhelming roller coaster ride,” Ayyar said. “He was upset but I think he then realized what he achieved last night and he’s proud of himself.”

“This year I didn’t even expect to be a finalist,” Vikram said, adding, “I learned my true potential from the bee. So that’s a really important thing that the bee taught me: it really taught me not to underestimate myself.”

Zaila Vanguard, winner of last year’s Bee contest and the contest’s first African-American champion, prepared for a spell-off last year, she said, and always thought it would be exciting to see one. As I sat in the audience Thursday night in Maryland, “It was really impressive to listen to those two,” she said.

“It’s exciting, an exciting moment,” said Zaila, a 15-year-old basketball player who recently moved to the District from Louisiana. “This is great for TV.”

Zaila Avantgarde wins 2021 National Spelling Bee, becoming her first African American champion

She said she liked that the “nerve-wracking” spell-off is so different from the traditional format that allows spellers to think and ask questions. And she was “super happy” for Harini, with whom she had spoken earlier in the competition.

“I actually cried when she won and the confetti came down,” Zaila said.

Harini credited her win to her mother’s coaching. Her advice to other spellers? Work hard, don’t let nerves get the better of you, and “Be proud of yourself.” No matter how far you get. All I can say is that you did your best.”

Now Harini plans to take some time off to relax. “This will be my first summer without spelling in many years,” she said.

Vikram, meanwhile, promised to return next year. “I’m very confident that I can keep up with my placement and even finish first,” he said.

After all, he’s only in seventh grade, so he still has a chance.

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