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Thirty-four-year-old Eric Guttmann figures he's the dark horse in this year's sweet-corn-eating championship, which takes place Sunday, April 24, at the South Florida Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach. The Lake Worth man was an explosives specialist during the Gulf War; he came home with a case of Gulf War Syndrome and more decorations than he can count, including two bronze stars. But he says he's never faced an enemy as formidable as reigning sweet-corn champ Ed "Cookie" Jarvis. Jarvis downed 33.5 ears of sweet corn last year in 12 minutes and walked off with the title.
Guttmann would like to take home the $1,000 first prize so he can finally get his roof fixed. Half the shingles were blown off during last year's two hurricanes. He's still waiting on a check from his insurance company.
So what's he doing to get in shape for Sunday's contest? Not much. "Everybody thinks I'm bananas, I'm a fruitcake. But I love sweet corn," Guttmann says happily. "When push comes to shove, I just gotta do it for my family. I'm gonna take a picture of my boys, and I'm gonna think about putting a roof over their head. My family is my strength."
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Meanwhile, back in Nesconsett, New York, Jarvis -- who weighs in at 409 pounds and holds the world records for cannoli, ice cream, chicken fingers, and corned beef and cabbage, just for starters -- says he's "eaten a couple of ears of corn" to get ready. "But what are you going to do? You try eating 33 ears of corn every day, you're going to end up with [jaw disease]. I'm chewing lots of gum."
Jarvis may have cause to worry. He's been slipping in the international rankings lately; he now runs a distant sixth behind a 105-pound woman, Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas.
In the contest, which starts at 1:30 p.m., Guttmann and Jarvis will also have to contend with Hollywood resident "Jammin'" Joe LaRue, who placed second in the corn-eating contest last year. Local gossip has it that LaRue has been honing his technique for months to wipe out Jarvis. "He's been telling me that as long as I've known him," Jarvis says philosophically. "It ain't happened yet."
Guttmann admits he's put on a few pounds since he was in peak form back in his Army days. He weighs 350 today. Win or lose, "I'm gonna go on Weight Watchers after this is over," he says. "They say I've got to get down to 160."