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Gluttony at the county fair

Golden slime oozed from Matt Axtell's nose.

The chunky goo smeared on his face should have been enough to make the crowd cringe, but they were reserving horror for something much, much worse.
Axtell clutched his stomach. His eyes bulged. And for one fleeting moment, even he thought he was about to blow. 
"I'm feeling it," he said. 
In less than nine minutes, the 21-year-old Dubuque resident chomped down four hot dogs, three-and-a-half Dilly Bars and one nine-inch Dutch apple pie, the remnants of which still stuck to his face. 
Gluttony well-defines the Dubuque County Fair's annual eating contest, and Thursday's competition proved no exception as dozens of easily encouraged eaters gorged until they could gorge no more. 
Doubt it? Here's a look at how eating to excess breaks down: 
  • 6,535 - Calories consumed by Axtell during the competition. After all, he did enter all three events - the pie-eating contest, the hot-dog eating contest and the ice-cream eating contest. "Well, I figure I can eat, and I'm pretty hungry," he said. He credits his appetite to his planning. Before he ate, he ran five miles. His strategy worked. At day's end, he claimed two third-place finishes and one first.
  • 536 - Food items prepared for contestants. As the fair's general manager, Jamie Blum ensured that the people on stage had more than their fill when the clock started ticking. So she and her workers provided 300 ice cream bars, 176 hot dogs with buns and 60 pies for the more than 50 people signed up to eat their hearts out. "Contest-wise, this is by far the fair's most popular event," she said. 
  • 250 - Estimated number of people cheering on the eaters. Walter Hartman, of Dubuque, recognized nobody on the stage. There was no need. "I just like seeing their reactions," he said. "This is funny stuff. You don't have to know these people to know this is funny stuff." 
  • 83 - Pounds on Brandon Lehmann's frame. The 9-year-old Peosta, Iowa, resident might not weigh much, but at 4-foot, 7-inches, he still believes in standing tall in the face of competition. "I ate two-and-a-half hot dogs last year, and I'm going to eat more than that this year," he said before the competition. He planned to do so with a simple strategy. "Shove 'em in," he said. He managed two. 
  • 72 - Ice cream bars Thomas McAndrew hoped to consume during the three-minute contest. The 8-year-old sets his goals high, and since he regularly eats "a lot," several dozen bars seemed like child's play. Until he got to the table. What with brain freezes, a ticking clock and a weaker-than-anticipated stomach, McAndrew managed to wolf down two. 
  • 27 - Bites Genesys Jara needed to finish four hot dogs. Although one more bite just might have done her in. "I feel bad right now," she said. The 11-year-old Cascade, Iowa, resident said she almost barfed three times. "Ugh." 
  • 18 - Age of consent. Before the competition started, a fair official took the microphone and made an announcement. "If you are younger than 18, you need a parent to sign a waiver. You need somebody who will be responsible for you if you get hurt." 
  • $3 - Cash required to purchase a shaved ice treat. Katrina Tallant and her mother, Barb, of Dubuque, could have saved their spare change by entering the contest and getting the ice cream for free. But that wasn't their style. "Oh no," Katrina said. "I just like to look. It's sort of like, well, my mom and I watch 'America's Funniest Home Videos' every night, and this is kind of like watching it live." 
  • 2 - Seconds required to eat one hot dog, bun and all. Jesse Larson's stomach already held six hot dogs. The first-place finish was already his. But as the crowd counted down, "Five! Four! Three! Two!," the 16-year-old Dubuque resident seized the opportunity and crammed the last one down to clinch his title as four-time champion. How does he feel about this victory? "Full," he said. 
  •  0 - People who got sick. "It's not common, but it's not unheard of, either," Blum said.

(Photo by BRIANA SCROGGINS/Standard-Examiner)