WASHINGTON – A 14-year-old Indiana boy mastered "autochthonous" to win the National Spelling Bee (search) Thursday, outdueling 264 rivals, including one who fainted on stage but recovered to take second place.
David Tidmarsh (search) covered his face with his hands, overwhelmed, after getting the winning word, which means indigenous. Moments earlier, he had hid behind his placard, then lowered it to show tears in his eyes, after nailing "gaminerie" — defined as an impudent or wisecracking spirit — to make the 15th and final round.
"I was just hoping that I got a word I studied," David said. His chances were excellent — he spent months going through the dictionary.
David, an eighth-grader at the public Edison Intermediate Center (search) in South Bend, won the top-prize package of $12,000 and an engraved cup from the bee, plus an additional $5,000, encyclopedias, a $1,000 savings bond and a reference library from other sponsors.
His path to victory went through words such as "arete," "sophrosyne," "sumpsimus," and "serpiginous."
David, surrounded by the media after his win, was asked whether he was a better speller than President Bush. He smiled and said, "I think so."
And what about all that cash?
"I might put it in a savings account or something," he said, adding, "I'll probably take a little and spend it at the mall."
In the end, he defeated Akshay Buddiga (search), a 13-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., who had briefly collapsed on stage rounds earlier.
Within seconds of crumpling, Akshay stood up and, to the amazement of the judges, immediately started spelling his word: "alopecoid," which means like a fox. He got it perfectly, drawing a standing ovation.
He was led off stage for a medical check and returned for the next round.
Akshay made it into the final twosome while sitting on a chair at the microphone, looking weak, his questions to the judges barely loud enough to hear.
"To me, that's what you call grit," said Paige Kimble, the bee director. "It was an extraordinary circumstance."
Akshay competed under the watchful eye of his brother, Pratyush, who won the event two years ago. Afterward, Akshay's family said he would be fine but needed time to recover.
The field for the 77th Scripps bee began with 265 spellers who had emerged from at least 9 million children who participated in local contests.
Anticipation grew as the field dropped from 26 to 15 to seven to five to three. The final several students got enormous hugs from their parents, who had been given special seating on stage.
Courtesy reigns at the bee. Every spelling, right or wrong, brought strong applause, and some of those on stage showed they were pulling for their competitors.
For the first time, spellers faced a strict time limit per word of two minutes, followed by a final 30-second period with a countdown clock, although they could claim one minute of bonus time once during the competition.
Among those eliminated in the fifth round was 10-year-old Samir Patel, who had been deemed a force to be reckoned with by last year's winner, Sai Gunturi. Samir, who finished tied for third in 2003, tried to break down "corposant," at one point asking the pronouncers, "Am I on the right track?"
The word, another name for the electrical discharge known as Saint Elmo's fire, was too much for the fifth-grader from Colleyville, Texas. He missed it by two letters.