Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raasch: Bee Co-Champions Show Respect, Humility

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raasch: Bee Co-Champions Show Respect, Humility

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * As they sat together on a national stage during ESPN commercial breaks in the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, soon-to-be co-champions Gokul Venkatachalam and Vanya Shivashankar exchanged nary a word.

Later, Gokul explained that the silence was respect for what both had gone through to get to that moment. No psych games or trash talking. An unsaid understanding had taken over.

"I didn't want to do anything" to disturb his opponent, the 14- year-old eighth-grader from Chesterfield and Parkway West Middle School said.

On the victory podium, Gokul and Vanya, 13, of Olathe, Kan., later would stress that they felt nothing diminishing about sharing a victory.

Ties, in the vernacular of previous generations, are supposed to be like kissing a sibling.

At the Spelling Bee, a tie is a lesson in singular triumph and shared humility. In those quiet moments, sitting side-by-side, Gokul's and Vanya's actions spoke as loudly as their words.

Don't misunderstand. The competition up to that point was fast and fierce. Ten rounds of words spell-check wouldn't pass through. Back-and-forth over a half hour on a national stage, the two final contestants showed how to reach beyond what is routinely achievable, and win at something more than a zero-sum game.

The two co-champs took home shiny trophies a third their height, and $35,000 in prize money. But neither talked about material winnings on the winner's podium. Both lauded the 281 other competitors, citing the work and dedication it took to get there. And the support they got from family and friends.

In Gokul's case, much of that came from his mother, Sreepriya Vaidynathan, his spelling coach over the last five years.

The third-place finisher, Cole Shafer Ray, of Norman, Okla., said he was not thinking about himself in that moment but his late dad, Neil, a physicist at the University of Oklahoma, who died in 2012. The elder Ray always wanted to see his son compete in the bee.

In a coarse, and sometimes cruel public sphere, the bee has not been immune to barbs. …

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