Xi Yuan Wang and his mother flew 15 hours from Shanghai to reach the venue for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland, but he almost missed his preliminary written test when he accidentally slept in.
Translating from Putonghua for his mother, Bin Cao, a mathematics teacher, Xi said she was "so sorry this morning because she didn't waken me up on time. When I woke up, it was 8.30am. So I ran all the way here".
He made his 8.45am time slot on Tuesday but was not pleased with how he thinks he'll score. "It was the worst test I've ever taken," the 12-year-old sixth-grader said.
The sprawling Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre was abuzz with young test-takers from all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Defence Department schools in Europe and seven foreign countries, including China. The final rounds are being televised.
Dwight Moore, 13, of Memphis, Tennessee, said he was ready to get started after taking the written test. His beaming mother took his picture with other children against a backdrop of banners celebrating winners of the bee dating back to 1925, when the winning word was "gladiolus".
"He's so excited so, as a mother, I'm excited for Dwight," said his mother, Geneva Simpson Moore, a nurse. "He's wanted to do the Scripps Bee since he was a little kid. This is the first year his school had participated and it's his last year of eligibility, so he got in right under the wire."
Spellers and parents in "Wanna Bee" and "Spelled It" T-shirts milled around the testing room, where little dramas played out. Some left the room visibly upset and were cradled by parents. Others, more stoic, indicated through body language that it could have been worse.
More than 11 million students participated in the local bees that sort out winners for the trip to the 87th annual Scripps-sponsored bee.
The spellers range in age from eight to 15, but the largest share of the competition, at 34.8 per cent, are aged 13.
They are competing for a US$30,000 cash prize and trophy as well as a US$2,500 savings bond and US$1,200 worth of reference material.