ROCK FALLS – It all came down to the 10th wiener.
Last year’s hot-dog eating champion got sick. The one from 2011 struggled. A newbie came from behind to become the new champ.
Mid-afternoon Thursday, four men and a teen got behind a table under a canopy at Kokomo’s Shaved Ice and Sandwiches. Each had a metal tray with 10 hot dogs and a large white cup of water to wash them down.
Thirteen-year-old Ethan Guzman walked away after eating 2½ wieners. And Nick Swisher never really got in the game, only chomping on five – at one point, using ketchup as an aid.
Many of the 30 attending thought Matthew Holloway, 22, of Rock Falls, would take the belt again this year. And he gave them hope. He was right up there with Johnny Trumbla and Josh Fisher for much of the time.
Last year, he consumed 10 hot dogs in 7 minutes, 19 seconds – a record since the Kokomo’s contest started in 2010.
Before the competition, however, Holloway told a reporter, “I’m not as good as I used to be.”
By the eighth hot dog, he started to struggle, walking a few steps away from the table.
Nigel Collins, 31, gave Holloway words of encouragement.
“C’mon, Matt. Just let it digest,” he said.
A silent Holloway returned to the table.
The shirtless Fisher, the 2011 champion, seemed confident, keeping his right hand on his hip as he ate.
With his eighth hot dog, Fisher faltered, too.
“He’s hitting a wall,” Collins told Holloway.
But Holloway was doing worse. He would put his head close to the table. He would chomp on a hot dog. Then he’d walk away.
After he finished the ninth one, he left a final time and got sick – an automatic disqualifier.
Then the contest was between Fisher and Trumbla. Just one hot dog left.
Trumbla ate the meat first, then focused on the bun. Fisher slowly worked on the bun and meat. He appeared ready to give up. At one point, he cheered the 44-year-old Trumbla. “Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!”
Yet Fisher still nibbled.
Collins urged him to fight to the finish.
“It’s a small price to be a legend,” he said.
Fisher wouldn’t have it.
“I’m already a legend in my own mind,” he said, smiling.
Both men stooped next to the table.
For Trumbla, only a little bit of bun remained. He stared at it. He felt his stomach. Minutes passed.
Then he completed his mission.
The time: 43 minutes, 11 seconds.
Trumbla got a belt for his win.
A victory, yes, but it took much longer than previous winners – by more than 25 minutes.
Trumbla, a Rock Falls resident, agreed to join the contest only a couple of days before. When he stopped by Kokomo’s, he was told about it and signed up. He didn’t especially prepare for the event. He ate chorizo in the morning.
Fisher left with little energy.
“I’ll have to lay down for a week.”