U.S. spelling bee champ to win crown from field of 41 finalists

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OXON HILL, Md. (Reuters) – For one young spelling ace aiming for the $40,000 top prize in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Thursday will be a day of winning. For 40 others, it will mean losing and learning to move on.

May 31, 2018; National Harbor, MD, USA; Nicole Tsygan from Maryland spelled the word debellation incorrectly during the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY NETWORK

The 91st annual Bee, which began Tuesday and ends Thursday evening, started with more than 500 spellers aged 8 to 15 and hailing from the United States and eight foreign countries. Forty-one spellers advanced to Thursday’s final rounds outside Washington, with a worldwide audience tuning in to a live broadcast of the finals on ESPN.

A taste of defeat can actually be beneficial for future challenges, said 1985 champion Balu Natarajan, whose 12-year-old son Atman Balakrishnan was eliminated from competition on Wednesday.

May 31, 2018; National Harbor, MD, USA; Cameron Keith, 12, from Boulder, Colo., stretches during a break during the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY NETWORK

“First or not, just to have your kid in the spelling bee is pretty exciting,” said Natarajan, a sports medicine doctor in Chicago, who was 13 when he won the prize.

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Asked whether he believed himself a natural-born speller, Balakrishnan credited his hard work, saying he wakes up between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on weekdays to study before he goes to school.

The finals also slipped out of reach for two sets of identical twins who were the first-ever twins to compete in the bee and who were were eliminated on Wednesday. Still, Aaron and Andrew Marcev, 11 year olds from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who competed along with Pierce and Garrett Bryner, 13, of Price, Utah, said they came out ahead for having a teammate in the competition.

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“We get to support each other,” said Aaron Marcev, who is older than his brother by five minutes.

“Most spellers have only one life, since it’s just themselves, but me and Andrew get to have two lives,” he added, referring to the number of “lives,” or turns, a player gets in a video game.

To prepare for the competition, the brothers studied together at the kitchen table for at least seven hours a week, said their mother, Deborah Marcev.

Reporting by Lacey Johnson; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry

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