KUALA LUMPUR - Obscure words of French, German, Latin, Greek and Italian origins were no obstacle to Kenneth Wu Min Jin, 16, who defended his best speller title for the fifth consecutive time at the RHB New Straits Times National Spell-It-Right (SIR) Challenge 2013 yesterday.
The Fourth-former of SMK King George V, Seremban, Negri Sembilan, has been on a winning streak since joining Malaysia's premier spelling competition in 2009. His recent achievement as the region's best speller confirmed his status as the "Nicol David of spelling".
He took home the grand prize of US$5,000 (RM15,800) and a Samsung Tablet Samsung Galaxy Note 8 at the first Asian Spelling Cup in Singapore earlier this month.
Yesterday, he spelled six out of seven words correctly in a tough fight with Perak's Darren Leong Wei Jin, 14, who took second place.
Wu's winning words were "ambsace", "schlep", "cognoscente", "festschrift", "bouleversement" and "anthropopsychism". He tripped on "reechy".
"I am grateful to win for the fifth time. I am also happy that Darren, who is like a brother to me, won second place," said Wu, who received RM15,000 and a trophy.
Second place winner Leong, who is a Form Two student of SMK St Michael, Ipoh, returned with a vengeance to the contest after failing to qualify for the state challenge last year.
"I was more diligent in my preparation this year.
"I looked up new words on the Internet and watched spelling contests such as The Scripps National Spelling Bee online," said Leong, who took home RM10,000.
Allyna Ng Ming Yi of SMK Infant Jesus Convent, Malacca, came in third this year after not making the cut last year.
"I'm happy that I won because I did minimal preparation this year.
"I was busy with my final examinations and other projects and did not manage my time well," said Ng, who received RM8,000.
Fifth-former Zamir Ariff Zainal of SMK Seksyen 9, Shah Alam, Selangor, retained his position when he took home the fourth prize of RM5,000.
"I underestimated the difficulty level of this year's contest. I took lots of breaks while preparing for the contest."
Fourth-former Mohammad Faiq Hazim Adenan of MRSM Kota Putra, Terengganu, was at a loss for words when he won fifth place.
"This is my first time in the top five. I was in the national finals last year but went home empty-handed."
In the primary category, Hooi Yan Ling of SK Infant Jesus Convent snagged the top prize after leading with four correctly spelt words in the finals.
The Year Six pupil sailed through "amygdaliform", "orthoepy", "pseudandry" and "plurisignification" but misspelled "attrahent", "rubefacient" and "quadrumanous".
"My experience as a three-time contestant in the SIR Challenge is the only advantage I have against the others. I did not expect to win first place.
"All I wanted to do was improve on my fourth-placing last year," said Hooi, who is RM10,000 richer after her performance.
Second place winner Yasmin Athirah Ahmad Feisal of SK Desa Pandan, Kuala Lumpur, had hoped to win the first prize but is happy with her achievement yesterday.
The 11-year-old vowed to try again next year with "better preparation".
Umar Farouq Roslan of SK Dato Abdul Hamid (2), Kelantan, who was ill on the morning of the contest, came out third and received RM4,000 for his effort.
"I was worried that my health would affect my spelling skills but I felt better later on and did my best.
"I will return next year because I enjoy the contest," said the Year Five pupil.
Anna Chua of SK Convent Infant Jesus (2), Malacca, was satisfied with her fourth position.
"I aimed to win fifth prize but got fourth place instead. I thought my competitors were very good," said the Year Six pupil who walked away with RM2,000.
Winners received their prizes from Deputy Minister of Education II P. Kamalanathan, RHB Banking Group Group Managing Director Kellee Kam and New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd chief executive officer Mohammad Azlan Abdullah.