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Sunday, 30 April 2006  
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Contest has America spellbound

The sports channel ESPN telecast the contest live.

There were moments of anxiety, exhilaration, joy and disappointment. And finally, one was crowned champion of - spelling.

The US National Spelling Bee, that ultimate anxiety fest for brainy schoolkids, has morphed (turned) into a media darling, inspiring a novel, a documentary, a feature film and a Broadway musical.

Anurag Kashyap (L) with other contestants

The previous winner, Anurag Kashyap of Poway, California, was among the 272 students who tackled such stumpers as "sphygmomanometer" in the final rounds of the competition, which lasted for two days.

To win the contest, Kashyap correctly spelled "appoggiatura" - which means a musical grace note. And what did he feel about being the winner? "Just pure happiness".

And he should. For he went home US$30,000 richer.

If spelling doesn't sound like a competitive sport on par with football, consider ESPN's ad in The Washington Post: "The silent E. It's ended more careers than the torn ACL".

A torn anterior cruciate ligament can put a real crimp in (harm) an active sports career - but offers three good words to try in the spelling bee.

Seasoned spellers fell before the onslaught of words like "tropholytic", "drepaniform" and "sciosophy".

Their struggles were marked by sighs of relief and pumped fists when they succeeded, and slumped shoulders and shaken heads when they failed.

The pressure is real and so are the prizes. Kashyap won a total of US$22,000 in cash, plus a US$5,000 college scholarship, a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a US$1,000 US savings bond and other prizes.

A fictional version of the struggles - The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - was playing at the Circle in the Square theatre in Manhattan.

Nominated for six Tony Awards, the musical comedy won good reviews for its story of palpably (obviously) nerdy (dull) contestants, played by demonstrably glamorous actors. The show's main gimmick is to draft members of the audience into the spell-down.

Beyond that, the best-selling novel Bee Season was made into a feature film this year, starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche as the parents of an unlikely spelling champion whose success fractures her family.

And then there was Spellbound, a documentary that received an Oscar nomination for its chronicle of eight competitors in the 1999 Bee, including winner Nupur Lala of Florida.

- The New Paper

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