OTTUMWA — The Canteen has a new record holder. And while a world champion professional eater took the crown Saturday, he didn’t destroy the previous amateur record.
Nigerian-born athlete Gideon Oji ate 18.5 canteens.
Asked what was on the dozens of sandwiches being forced down by the competitors, restaurant manager Lindsey Newland answered in the same rapid-fire way anyone who has eaten there would be accustomed to hearing: catsup-mustard-pickle-onion.
The number of contestants changed at the last moment, to about a dozen: The professional eaters were there at Central Park, overlooked by both the Wapello County Courthouse and Ottumwa City Hall. A few more local entries were there. A Dweeb (from the band performing at Bridge View Center) was there.
The recently interviewed Sarah Reinecke, a health and nutrition coach from Seattle, tied for fifth place. Both she and Mark Williams ate 10.5 canteens in 10 minutes, just about one sandwich per minute.
With 11, local competitor Mike Johnson impressed the judges for fourth place. In third place was Sarah’s boyfriend, competitive eater Juan Rodriguez, the world’s No. 12 eater. He tied the old, unofficial record: 15. In second place, with 16 canteens, was Juan Neave, who made his name at the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. He ate one more than the old record.
But Oji ate two more than that: 18.
And while the past record was been cited often Saturday, the 15-sandwich mark was passed by Gideon Oji in just 10 minutes.
Oji, originally from Nigeria, is currently ranked as the No. 6 eater in the world. Depending on how Major League Eating averages in the Ottumwa competition, that ranking may change.
Oji is now the world champion Canteen consumer. And under strict rules, like no throwing up. No dunking the sandwich in liquid. Debris left on the plate is subtracted from the total. And, perhaps most challenging of all, someone keeping track with a stopwatch. Oji polished off 18.5 canteens in 10 minutes.
The 6-foot, 9-inch former college basketball center said if he didn’t push himself past his limit, he wouldn’t have won.
“There’s a point you reach. Your mind tells you: ‘No more. Do not eat any more. You cannot!’ But you must,” he said.
Well, maybe not “must.”
“I was eating kind of slow,” said body builder Sarah Reinecke. “They were just so delicious.”
Oji said the taste of the food, for example, something rich and delicious, can impact how much eaters can consume.
After the competition, Scott Pierce, co-owner of the Canteen in the Alley, gave out the last few dozen sandwiches to audience members. Those that were offered a plate ate one or two.
The eaters were being served by, perhaps, 25 volunteers and judges. And the 30 volunteers had brought up to the pavilion at least 200 sandwiches.
Only eating 10 canteens in 10 minutes didn’t get Reinecke the huge first place trophy, or the $2,000 top prize. But it did leave the competitive bodybuilder free to do something she wanted to try ever since she arrived in Ottumwa.
“I heard the Canteen has really good pie,” she said. “Juan. Come on, time for pie.”
The two professional personal trainers/competitive eaters left Central Park for the Canteen.
Staff writer Mark Newman can be contacted at MNewman@ottumwacourier.com.