SINGAPORE - A two-person showdown ended on a high note for 10-year-old Nicole Lim Hsing Yi, who won yesterday's grand final of The Big Spell.
The Primary 5 pupil from Singapore Chinese Girls' School beat Thomas Egan Ang Yiren for the top honour, acing the spelling of percussion instrument "glockenspiel".
The first girl to claim the prize of $5,000 in the three years of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship confidently outspelt 24 other finalists and broke the winning streak of Anglo-Chinese School (Primary) which produced the previous two champions.
Asked about her achievement, she said offstage with a smile: "I feel happy because it's, like, history!"
A cool-headed Thomas, 11, a Primary 6 pupil from St Joseph's Institution Junior, had until that point matched Nicole word for word, together blazing through crowd-stunners such as "verisimilitude", "infinitesimal" and "encephalitis".
Then, Nicole correctly spelt "ratatouille", but Thomas stumbled on "glockenspiel".
She calmly waited as the microphone was adjusted to suit her 1.33m frame after her lankier, 1.58m opponent finished, then delivered the spelling perfectly.
The auditorium at ITE College Central erupted with applause and screams of delight from her schoolmates.
"I knew the word," she said later. "During music lessons, we go to the music room... and there's a glockenspiel."
Nicole, a first-time finalist who went unplaced in the zonal round of the competition on April 5, was a dark horse. Her immaculate performance pipped south zone champion Thomas and last year's overall first runner-up Kua Le Yi, 11.
This year, Le Yi, a Primary 5 pupil from Catholic High School (Primary), placed third. He and Thomas respectively won $1,000 and $3,000.
Second-time guest of honour Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament, said she was gratified her remark in 2012 - that it would be wonderful if more people could participate to keep an interest in good language all year round - had become reality.
"I understand that schools are conducting their own mini spelling matches, getting their pupils to go on stage to pit themselves against their peers, while working on their self-esteem and confidence."
This year's edition drew 1,400 registered participants compared to the first year's 1,200, a fact that Straits Times deputy editor Zuraidah Ibrahim pointed out as a sign that the competition had grown in prestige.
RHB Banking Group group managing director Kellee Kam also noted the competition championed positive values, helping pupils build character and mental fortitude.
The Big Spell is co-organised by RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times, in partnership with the Ministry of Education. It is supported by the National Library Board, tech giant HP and ITE College Central, whose event management course students were ushers, road marshals and championship officials for the competition.
For more information on The Big Spell, go to www.straitstimes.com/big-spell-2014
Additional reporting by Laremy Lee
This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.
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