I never knew that an ability to gorge oneself into a near coma could make you famous. Perhaps if I had I wouldn’t have ceased my binge eating halcyon days in high school where I would routinely put away four or five hamburgers at a BBQ without breaking a sweat. Don’t get me wrong I can still put away the burgers and dogs, much to the amazement of my friends considering that fact that I weigh only 180 pounds at 6’3″, but I guess I just have the gift of being able to put away massive amounts of whatever type of food someone will prepare for me.
Of course, I would be akin to a newborn in dunking contest with LeBron James if I were to enter a competitive easting contest such as the world’s most famous event, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest that was held for the 94th time on July 4th, 2010. In case you are unfamiliar with the contest, here are the general rules. (1) You must be hungry. (2) You must be able to scarf down hot dogs. (3) You also have to eat the buns. (4) There is a time limit (it has been 12-minutes in the past but was shorted to 10-minutes in 2008).
So what’s the world record for dogs eaten in one of these contests? If you had to guess you would probably say, what, 15 or so? Remember, you have to eat the dogs and the buns, and get less time than a quarter in an NBA game. In 1985 the record appears to have been 19.5 dogs, a total that I would probably cause me to go into gastrointestinal death if I tried to duplicate it. It wasn’t until 1991 that someone topped the 20 mark in the Nathan’s contest, and in 2000 Kzutoyo Arai set a contest record with 25.5 dogs. But the world of competitive eating was about to witness the birth of its Michael Jordan in the form of Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi.
Standing 5’8″ and weighing about 140 pounds, Kobayashi is a tightly wound package of muscle who keeps his body in excellent physical shape. In 2001 he took the competitive food world by storm by eating 50, yes 50, dogs in Nathan’s contest to double the record (think of someone hitting 146 home runs in a season, double Barry Bonds record of 73). Eventually he pushed his record up to 63 dogs in 12 minutes. He is so famous now that he goes by just one name, Kobayashi, much like Magic, Jordan or LeBron.
But out of the cornfield of California… OK he is from San Jose which is the heart of Silicon Valley, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut has emerged as the new world record holder of competitive hot dog eating, the Kobe Bryant to Kobayashi’s Jordan if you will. Chestnut, who sort of looks like your goofy cousin who never fit in so you ignored him at family events, ate 66 dogs in 2007 to set the world record to return to the crown to the United States.
These two titans of titillation went up against each other on July 4th, 2008, and they finished the new 10-minute format tied 59 dogs apiece. In overtime, a thriller that had everyone on the edge of their seats, or more appropriately their toilets, Chestnut emerged victorious as the first to consume five dogs, and buns, taking only 50 seconds (Kobayashi needed 57 seconds).
In 2009, Chestnut set the world of competitive eating on its head, not only defeating Kobayashi, but by setting yet another record pushing the mark out to 68 hot dogs. Think of it this way. The average person is supposed to consume about 2,500 calories a day. Olympic champion Michael Phelps, who needs tons of energy to keep his body running in the pool, eats about 12,000 calories a day. In the contest last year, Chestnut at over 20,000 calories in 10 minutes.
In the 2010 contest held earlier today, 6-time champion Kobayashi, who is at a “labor impass”with Major League Eating, did not compete, though he was arrested after the contest when he tried to storm the stage (you can read about that in the Associated Press report). Batting 95 degree heat, Chestnut won for the 4th straight year, though he ate “only” 54 dogs in the process.
So after all of that is competitive eating a sport? I would have to say no way in hell. No longer the realm of 350 lbs guys who could just stuff their bellies, the sport is being led by a buffed Japanese competitor (Kobayashi) and a 6’2″, 220 lbs American who has left all of the other “fat boys” in the dust (Tim Janus finished second this year with a total of 45 dogs, and he checks in at 5’10″, 170 lbs, so it should be asked, is the sport moving away from those that tip the scales with sheer girth to those that have technique despite their size?). It may not be a sport, but if you’ve got 10 minutes to kill next July 4th, tune into ESPN for the event because seeing a human being eat more than 50 hot dogs in 10 minutes is something that must be seen to be believed.
By Ray Flowers