California boy, 13, becomes top US speller

Evan O'Dorney is the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

The 13-year-old from California aced "serrefine" Thursday night to win the 80th annual bee. He won a tense duel with Nate Gartke of Canada, who was trying to become the first Canadian to win the bee.

Evan won a trophy and a $35,000 (EUR26,000) prize, plus a $5,000 (EUR3,700) scholarship, a $2,500 (EUR1,850) savings bond and a set of reference works. He said he knew how to spell the winning word - a noun describing small forceps - as soon as the pronouncer said it.

Evan said he was not surprised to win, but he confessed that spelling is not his top interest.

"My favorite things to do were math and music, and with the math I really like the way the numbers fit together," he said. "And with the music I like to let out ideas by composing notes - and the spelling is just a bunch of memorization."

Evan and Nate went head-to-head for three rounds, matching each other's correct spellings until Nate flubbed the medical word "coryza" by adding the letter "h." Until then, Nate had been quite the showman, waving celebrity-like to the audience after each word and basking in the cheers from a row that waved red-and-white maple leaf flags.

But Evan, who finished tied for 14th last year, was unflappable. The kid who juggles at home while his mother calls out words appeared to be in trouble only once during the finals - when he had to restart "schuhplattler," a German-based word describing a dance. At one point, Evan calmly cleaned his glasses while Nate spelled a word.

Evan's father, Michael, is a subway train operator in the San Francisco area. His mother, Jennifer, is in charge of Evan's schooling at the family's home in Danville, California. Jennifer said Evan's spelling prowess has given him some balance in a life that's been dominated by the love of numbers.

"I believe it's made him more well-rounded," she said.

The day began with 59 spellers remaining from the record 286 who started the competition Wednesday.