Kavya Shivashankar Wins National Spelling Bee With Word 'Laodicean'

The fourth time was the charm for spelling bee veteran Kavya Shivashankar, who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee Thursday night in Washington with the correct spelling of "Laodicean," which means lukewarm or indifferent in religion or politics.

Wiping tears from her eyes after winning, Shivashankar was presented the champion's trophy by Rich Boehre, president and CEO of the Scripps Company. The 13-year-old from Olathe, Kansas will be awarded more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.

On "Good Morning America" today, flanked by her parents and 7-year-old sister, Shivashankar said there was no fear as she approached the microphone for her final word.

"I'd studied it before, so I knew it when I got up there," Shivashankar said. And she wasn't the only one. Her father, who doubles as her spelling coach, said he was confident knowing "we'd gone through this word several times."

As for her signature spell style -- tracing the letters of the word on her hand before she delivers the final spelling to the judges -- Shivashankar says there's no controversy there.

"Just helps me visualize the word and make sure everything fits before I spell the word," the aspiring neurosurgeon explained to "GMA"s Chris Cuomo.

The Shivashankar family sported t-shirts that said 'How do you spell champion?" on the front, and 'Shivashankar' on the back.

This was the Indian-American teen's fourth consecutive trip to the prime time finals of the spelling bee. She is the fourth Kansan to win the title of champion.

On the front page of the Kansas City Star this morning, the paper lauded their hometown champ.

"Instead of garnering headlines for evolution flaps, a 13-year-old shows America an awe-inspiring talent in spelling expertise," wrote Miriam Pepper, the paper's editorial page editor.

Shivashankar's spelling bee sponsor was The Olathe News. Despite the struggling financials of the newspaper industry, spelling bee organizers boasted 287 sponsors, the most they've ever had. Sponsors are responsible for the organization of local spelling bees and paying the winner's way to Washington.

Second-place speller Tim Ruiter of Virginia spelled out on "maecenas," meaning a generous patron, especially of literature or art.

11 Spellers in Prime Time Showdown

The eleven spellers who advanced to the Scripps National Spelling Bee's finals Thursday night all had two things in common: None of them read the dictionary in preparation for the national spotlight and they all wanted to win.

The evening unfolded over nine rounds and 55 words.

Word by word, 10 were eliminated with gentle dings and sympathetic applause, drifting from one side of the stage to the other, blinking back tears and disappointment in a kind of spellbound daze.

In the audience sat Jill Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's wife who opened the championship with an anecdote about her own bee past, telling the gathered group of parents and participants "confidence is the most important thing you can give a child."

Sidarth Chand, 13, the second-place finisher of the 2008 spelling bee, was a favorite in some quarters to win this year's competition, but got eliminated in the finals.

"A spelling bee is a spelling bee," he said matter-of-factly before the competition, "You never know what word you're going to get. You never know how difficult the words are going to be."

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