The gurgles, grunts and groans of nine men emanated from a tent as each tried to consume four lamb-meat gyros before the others could finish.
They were competing in the Trojan War gyro-eating contest Aug. 10 at King Gyros Greek Restaurant, 400 S. Hamilton Road in Whitehall.
How does one prepare for such a contest?
“I just eat,” said reigning champion Colin Wierenga.
The 41-year-old Reynoldsburg resident was the runaway winner in clinching his third consecutive Trojan War title.
Wierenga consumed four gyros, each consisting of 3 ounces of meat and 1 1/2 ounces of sauce on a 6-inch flour pita.
The gyros did not have lettuce or other toppings.
His time of 4 minutes, 45 seconds far outdistanced runner-up Ian Merriman, 37, of Pickerington, whose silver-medal effort clocked in at 7 minutes, 3 seconds.
While Wierenga had taken part in the Trojan War before – as well as similar events, such as a spaghetti-eating contest in Reynoldsburg – others were making their first go at challenging their mandibles and gastrointestinal tracts.
They included Tom Ridenour, 41, of Westerville.
“(Wierenga) talked me into it,” Ridenour said of his friend.
Ridenour said he agreed to enter “just for fun” and had no experience with speed-eating – or at least not recently. He admitted he downed Coney dogs and saltine crackers 20 years ago in two separate events associated with his college fraternity at the University of Cincinnati.
Anthony Woods, 40, of Whitehall was another first-time contestant.
“I couldn’t pass up free, delicious food,” Woods said.
Woods, who required 12 minutes, 11 seconds to finish his meal, said the contest was a little more daunting that he expected.
“But it was still fun,” he said.
First-timers likely learned a few techniques from the champs, such as the off-label use for the glasses of water placed in front of the contestants.
Though they’re meant to wash down the gyros, they also can be used to soften the pita bread – a technique often used by champion hot-dog eaters.
“It makes (the bread) easier to go down,” Wierenga said.
Wierenga and other contestants ate the meat and bread separately, choosing to soak the bread in water and eat it last.
Leo Knoblauch, a Whitehall school board member and former city councilman, served as a judge, declaring Wierenga the champion after he opened his mouth to confirm he had swallowed everything.
Swallowing it all – and not just being the first to stuff your mouth with the final remnants – is required, Knoblauch said.
Keeping the gyros south for at 10 minutes after finishing also is a requirement, he said.
And so it was that the earliest finishers had to wait to learn that the would-be third-place winner was indeed disqualified, allowing Ron Hall to place third with a time of 8 minutes, 2 seconds.
Yianni Chalkias, owner of King Gyros, established the Trojan War contest in 2016.
Now in its fourth year, it is part of an annual lineup of events he holds each August to celebrate the restaurant’s anniversary that also includes Greek dancing exhibitions.
Chalkias opened King Gyros in 1991.
“It was my idea to come up with something unique that I thought would be a fun event, too,” Chalkias said.
The contest’s top three winners received King Gyros gift certificates in the amounts of $50, $25 and $10, respectively, but a local charity also was a winner.
Entry fees for the contest of $10 each, totaling $90, will be given to Get Behind the Badge, a Whitehall charity for law-enforcement support founded by Angie McDowell after her husband, Whitehall officer Terry McDowell, was fatally shot in the line of duty in 2001.