WASHINGTON - Sometimes the fourth time is a charm.
Sai Gunturi, a Dallas eighth-grader making his fourth appearance at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, took the grand prize Thursday, correctly spelling the word "pococurante" to defeat 250 other spellers. The word means indifferent.
That's pretty much how the cool contender looked during the 15 rounds he spent onstage. Often with his thumbs looped into his pockets, the lanky 13-year-old did not betray any nervousness. But every time he nailed a word, he was visibly relieved, sometimes giving a full-body sigh. Once, he looked close to falling over in relief.
Sai, who plays the violin, enjoys video games and studies Indian classical music, tied for seventh place last year and 16th place in 2001. In 2000, he tied for 32nd place.
Spelling runs in the family: sister Nivedita, 18, tied for eighth place in 1997 and younger brother Abhiram, 11, took third in the regional bee. Sai credited his whole family for helping him attain his spelling prowess. During the bee, they could be seen flashing him thumbs-up after each correct word.
As champion, Sai will receive a $12,000 cash prize, an engraved loving cup and reference books from Merriam-Webster and Encyclopaedia Britannica, among other prizes.
Coming in second place was Evelyn Blacklock, a 14-year-old home-schooled student from Tuxedo Park, N.Y. Evelyn, an avid reader wearing bright red boots and a matching belt, tied for 59th place last year.
Sai's mother, Lakshmi Gunturi, said it may be more nerve-racking to watch a loved one compete than to actually compete. "It's better to take the microphone and spell than sit and watch," she said.
Eighty-four of the original 251 spellers began the second day of the bee, now in its 76th year. The final rounds were aired live on ESPN and ESPN2.