News World US Teenager Zaila Avant-garde becomes first African American to win spelling bee

Teenager Zaila Avant-garde becomes first African American to win spelling bee

spelling bee
Zaila Avant-garde correctly spelled "murraya", a genus of plants, to take the 2021 title. Photo: AAP
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

How do you spell ‘winner’? Zaila Avant-garde almost certainly knows.

The 14-year-old won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night (US time), becoming its first African-American champion.

Zaila won the 90-year-old spelling competition by correctly spelling “murraya”, a genus of plants.

She managed to stay cool, despite a near miss with a botanical word in a previous round.

The American competition’s finals were broadcast live on ESPN, complete with play-by-play commentary and interviews with the participants. They returned after being cancelled 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The event was once again held before a live audience at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.

Avant-garde, from New Orleans, is the first black contestant to win since Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998.

She claimed the $US50,000 ($A67,000) top prize after appearing relaxed and bantering with the judges and moderators, despite her struggle with “nepeta”, a word for another plant genus.

Pausing at the unstressed sound in the middle of word, she collected herself, started again, and nailed the second “e”, jumping for joy on stage when told she was correct.

Zaila, who is also a talented basketball player with three Guinness World Records in dribbling, jumped up and down after securing her win, letting out an excited yelp as confetti rained down on the stage.

Chaitra Thummala, 12, of San Francisco, came in second after misspelling “neroli oil”. She takes home $US25,000.

Bhavana Madini, 13, of New York finished third with the $US15,000 prize, after being eliminated on “athanor”, a type of furnace.

The 2021 competition had new rules, which were intended to stamp out multiple co-winners, such as the eight who shared the title in the “octo-champs” contest in 2019.

-with agencies