COLUMBIA — They turned Jesse Hall’s dome green. On Friday night, knights will be selected. And Saturday, a king a queen will be named.
But Thursday, they turned their attention to their taste buds during the third annual stretch eating contest at the Broadway Diner.
The event was part of MU’s engineering week, held this time of year in a nod to Saint Patrick, the patron saint of engineers.
The winning contestant last year scarfed down four stretches — a diner staple consisting of hash browns smothered with eggs, chilli and onions.
Before the start of the contest, sponsored by the civil engineering honor society Chi Epsilon, students clad in green sat around talking and joking with friends. Some looked eager, others anxious about the nearing competition.
Justin Norfleet said it was his first year competing. He decided to compete because he had always eaten more than most of his friends and since he was sponsored, he got a free meal and free T-shirt. Others had to pay $15 or $20 to compete.
“I’ll be happy with two, I think,” he said.
Brandon Smith, a member of the Mizzou Engineering Student Council, or MESC, said it was strange being in the diner that early. The competition began at 7 p.m.
“Typically, I’m usually here around two or three in the morning,” he said.
A little after 7 p.m., the first group of competitors stepped up to the counter. The group of 10 men took up the length of the counter, while spectators filled any available space in the rest of the diner. After paper plates piled with stretches were handed out, someone behind the counter yelled “One, two, three, GO!”
Immediately, faces were bent over 10 plates and forks started shoveling.
A mix of encouragement and razzing came from the competitors and onlookers. As a one eater slowed down he was quickly chastised by the crowd: “Hey, there are starving kids in China,” one person shouted.
After the first round, the number to beat was five.
For round two, five men and five women, including some members of the engineering week royal court, stepped up to the counter.
The second round was a little more subdued, but there was a still a large crowd. About halfway through the round, one eater abandoned his silverware in favor of his hands. The effort seemed to energize the crowd as the diner started to get louder.
Despite the enthusiasm, no one could top five stretches.
The third round only had three people, two men and one women. The crowd had diminished though the eaters kept going strong, but it wasn’t enough.
Again, no one could beat five.
Norfleet completed his first stretch-eating contest with a respectable finish — two stretches and a bite. But he couldn’t beat champion James Bryce, a junior civil engineering major, who downed five stretches. The prize for his gastronomic feat: A trophy shaped like an oversized spoon. And, of course, bragging rights.
Looking overstuffed he proclaimed, “It’s never felt so miserable to be the champion.”