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S. Asian girl wins spelling bee contest

COOL and collected, Kavya Shivashankar wrote out every word on her palm and always ended with a smile. The 13-year-old Kansas girl saved the biggest smile for last, when she spelled "Laodicean" correctly to be the latest in a line of Indian-American spelling champions.

The budding neurosurgeon from Olathe, Kansas, outlasted 11 finalists on Thursday to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, taking home more than US$40,000 in cash and prizes and, of course, the huge champion's trophy.

Eight Indian-Americans have now won the title, including six of the past 10 winners.

"I can't believe it happened," Kavya said. "It feels kind of unreal."

Kavya won in her fourth appearance at the bee, having finished 10th, eighth and fourth over the last three years. She enjoys playing the violin, cycling, swimming and learning Indian classical dance, and her role model is Nupur Lala, the 1999 Indian-American champion featured in "Spellbound."

Last year, a final-round mishap by Sidharth Chand allowed Sameer Mishra to claim the title.

Both also share an Indian heritage and dream of becoming neurosurgeons.

The run of champions with South Asian roots began with Balu Natarajan of Chicago, who became the first Indian-American national bee champion in 1985.

"The competitiveness is in her," Kavya's father Mirle Shivashankar said. "But she doesn't show that. She still has that smile. That's her quality."


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