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After winning, he certainly wasn't feeling pococurante

P-o-c-o-c-u-r-a-n-t-e, meaning indifferent or nonchalant, made it a winning day for Sai Gunturi at the 76th annual bee.

Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 30, 2003

WASHINGTON - A 13-year-old eighth-grader from Dallas nailed "pococurante" to win the 76th Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee on Thursday.

It was Sai Gunturi's fourth time in the competition.

"I studied it," a beaming Sai said of the word after winning the contest, $12,000 and other prizes. "That's why I was kind of laughing." The word means indifferent or nonchalant.

Sai plays the violin and studies Indian classical music. His father, Sarma, is a chemical engineer and his mother, Lakshmi, is a homemaker.

Last year, Sai tied for seventh place. He tied for 16th place in 2001 and tied for 32nd place in 2000. His sister, Nivedita, tied for eighth place in 1997.

"Actually, I started studying in fourth grade and then I guess it's kind of like cumulative study all the way up to here," he said after surviving the grueling, 15-round contest by spelling such words as "rhathymia," "dipnoous" and "voussoir."

Evelyn Blacklock, a 14-year-old eighth-grader who is home-schooled in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., was the runnerup.

Earlier Thursday, Evelyn not only had to spell one of her words, but got to fully experience its meaning.

She stepped to the microphone at the sound of "tenebrosity," which means darkness, and began to question the announcer about its meaning and origins.

An unspoken answer came when the stage mysteriously went dark.

Unfazed, Evelyn lifted the numbered yellow square hanging from her neck and scribbled on the back of it with her finger before spelling, slowly and correctly, as the hotel ballroom's lights crept back on.

She later agonized over "anaphylaxis," a hypersensitivity caused by contact with a sensitizing agent, and "ganache," a sweet chocolate mixture used in baking, to advance another round.

The cable sports network ESPN provided live coverage.

In taped remarks, Education Secretary Rod Paige congratulated the 84 competitors who were still standing when the competition resumed Thursday, telling them they should be proud of making it to the finals.

"No matter whether you go out in the first round or become the next champ, your presence here spells only one thing," Paige said, then added: "S-u-c-c-e-s-s, success."

The event opened Wednesday with a field of 251 youngsters, ranging in age from 8 to 15. Each got one word to spell; 175 got them right.

Next came a written spelling test, introduced last year as a way to speed up the contest but ensure that every student gets at least once chance at the microphone. Sana Hye, 14, a student at Universal Academy of Florida in Tampa, was eliminated after the test.

The exam narrowed the field to 84, who made the cut by missing 10 words or fewer.

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