'Commorient' stymies Kimmy


Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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Kimberly Olson, 13, of Gainesville, participates in the second round of the 2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Wednesday. She was knocked out on the word “commorient.”

ANDREW COUNCILL for The N.Y. Times Regional Media
WASHINGTON - The fourth round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee was taking a heavy toll by the time Kimberly Olson stepped to the microphone.
Of the 21 spellers who came before the 13-year-old from Gainesville, 11 were dinged out for a mistake on words such as "whelkin," "horripulation" and "opeidoscope."
Kimmy paused twice in the middle of her word, pondering the syllables, before finishing with her breath on hold. The bell rang. Like almost 40 other spellers that round, Kimmy was knocked out.
"Commorient," one of two or more persons perishing at the same time by the same calamity, was her downfall.
Kimmy made a second run in two years at the national bee, following her older sister, Katie, who finished in sixth place in 2004. This year, Kimmy Olson arrived brimming with confidence, saying after the preliminary rounds that she thought she was "oodles better than last year," when she tied for 28th place.
But anything can happen at the spelling bee. Kimmy survived a protracted scare in the third round, when she spent long moments chewing on "satiety," the state of being fed to or beyond capacity. Her mother, Heather Olson, said she blamed herself for mispronouncing that word during practice sessions.
Kimmy, who is home schooled, toughed out that word but mistook the "e" at the end of commorient for an "a." Because she is too old to try again next year, the error ended a three-year Olson run on the contest.
The annual bee draws thousands of hopefuls to local and regional competitions that whittle them down. This year, the national bee started with 274 spellers from around the U.S. and Canada.
Many of them come hoping to at least make it to rounds broadcast on television, which has given the spelling bee some cache among middle school students. ESPN will televise live bee rounds today beginning at noon, followed by championship rounds broadcast on ABC.
Kimmy won a regional competition in Jacksonville in February to advance to the national event.
The first round of written questions and an initial oral round Wednesday morning produced a combined score which, based on a formula, cut the field to 97.
Preparing for spelling competitions, especially leading up to the national event, is often a family affair. Parents and siblings can work almost as hard as the spellers, constantly quizzing them at home, in cars and over meals.
The Olson family has spent the past three years with bees on the brain, which means something will be missing now.
"It really has been fun, and when we get over the mild disappointment, we will continue to have fun," Heather Olson said.
Kimmy was surprised at how hard the words suddenly got in the fourth round, after only 11 were eliminated in the third. But she is reluctant to completely give up on the bee and all it entails. Kimmy said several area competitors have asked her to tutor them for future events.

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