JT Bee winner stumbles in U.S. semifinals but content with spelling effort

A 13-year-old Indian boy from an international school in Tokyo was eliminated in Wednesday’s semifinals of the U.S. national spelling bee but said he was satisfied he came so far in America’s largest and longest-running competition of its kind.

Shantanu Edgaonkar, an eighth-grader at Global Indian International School in Tokyo, performed well in the semifinals of the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee, but failed to become one of the 40 contenders for Thursday’s finals. He did not rack up enough points from a written spelling and vocabulary test given Tuesday.

“I tried my best so I’m satisfied about that,” said Edgaonkar, who won the eighth Japan Times Bee in March. “I feel really good with what I’ve done until now because I’m representing an entire country (Japan) and I also feel happy that I’ve made all my teachers and parents proud about my achievements.”

On stage, Edgaonkar correctly spelled “fungivorous” with calm aplomb in the first round. But things really got down to the wire in the second round when he spelled “contrariwise” just before time ran out.

“Before I got my words I felt really nervous. But after I heard them, I kind of calmed down because I knew my words,” he said.

Recalling his performance in the second round, Edgaonkar said he felt “a lot of pressure” because “contrariwise” is not an everyday word. “At first I was confused with the word, but later I realized I knew it.”

The youngster — a resident of Japan for less than three years and trilingual in Hindi, Marathi and English — competed against 290 other spellers from ages 6 to 15 who came from across the United States and six other countries, including South Korea, Jamaica and Ghana.

According to the organizers, more than 11 million students had competed globally to vie for the first prize, worth more than $40,000.

Spellers were faced with unusual words such as “sphacelated,” “infundibuliform” and “rubefacient.” A few Japanese words also appeared, including “ronin,” “mochi” and “edamame.”

Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Osumi was mentioned in an example by the pronouncer for “autophagy,” or cellular self-digestion — a discovery that earned him the 2016 Nobel Prize in medicine.

Edgaonkar maintained his quiet demeanor throughout the competition, “not smiling once,” noted his father, Shrirang.

The speller said he gained his focused, on-stage approach for the 90th annual competition in the United States by adding mental preparation to his routine after winning the Japan Times Bee.

“I learned how to study for a long time and keep focus and I also learned how to be calm under pressure when doing things like spelling words on stage,” he said, adding he had prepared by studying more than two hours daily.

Edgaonkar said he will not be able to try again next year because applicants to the U.S. spelling bee must be below ninth grade. He called Wednesday’s experience his “first and only time” but looked forward to participating in other spelling bees.

Asked what his favorite word was, Edgaonkar smiled and said, “toxicosis,” which won him the Japan Times Bee on March 4 and paved his way to the U.S. spelling world.

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