Sonna no uso da! Fuzakeruna yo! Were those the words of ex-champ Takeru Kobayahsi as he brazenly stormed the stage at the ninety-fifth annual Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest yesterday?
Poor Takeru! Joey “Jaws” Chestnut had just crammed 54 franks down his gullet in 10 minutes and was being awarded his fourth consecutive Mustard-Yellow Belt, when the crazed Kobayashi ran up the dais and went all anime. By which I mean, he stood rock still and expostulated and expostulated and expostulated. The only thing that was missing were his tentacles.
But New York’s Finest were there—thank you, boys!—and, after a brief struggle, fitted Kobayashi out with a set of personalized, Fourth of July, silver bracelets. Off to chokey! But not in the way Takeru had hoped.
Poor Takeru. It didn’t have to end this way.
It was 4 July 2001, at Nathan’s hot dog stand at the corner of Surf and Stillwell, in Coney Island, Brooklyn. I was there with about 150 fans—yes! only 150!—as we watched Kobayashi and his rivals mount the stage. It was the big men that impressed: eating legends like Ed “Cookie” Jarvis (who is now down with a thyroid cancer injury) and Eric “Badlands” Booker. Takeru practically disappeared behind these behemoths.
There was a fog so thick that we couldn’t see the sea, though it was only one block and a boardwalk away. I was able to stand right by the rope placed in front of the stand, there was such a small crowd.
Fans weren’t completely dismissive of Kobayashi. Just last year, his country-mate Kazutoyo Arai had took the title by eating 25 1/8 dogs in 12 minutes, an impressive but not galvanizing performance. But smart money went with the literally hungry look in Jarvis’s eyes. Surely he or one of the other giants would eat this tiny Nipponese under the table.
When the gun sounded, the slight Kobayashi turned into a machine. He ate so fast that they eye couldn’t follow. Dog followed dog down his throat so fast that he could not have been chewing. Eric “Badlands” Booker glanced over, but he couldn’t push himself to match Kobayashi’s speed. He spent just as much time drinking water as eating buns.
Young Takeru handily won, eating a then-record 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. There was scattered applause and the crowd dispersed quickly. I walked over to the ocean to check on the fog, and to see if the water was swimmable. I returned to Nathan’s after about ten to fifteen minutes. The contestants were still hanging around the stage.
A Japanese TV station was interviewing Kobayashi. He pulled up his shirt and I was stunned to see a washboard stomach. Where had all those dogs gone!
But what really struck me was that “Badlands” Booker, who was chatting with another competitor, was casually eating another hot dog or two. It’s true that he had only eaten half as many dogs as Kobayashi, but there he was, still dining on Nathan’s dime.
So here is some advice for the bosses at Major League Eating: there is a difference between sprinting and the Marathon. Nathan’s contest is a sprint. Eaters like “Cookie” Jarvis and “Badlands” Booker are natural Marathoners. Contests designed around this concept should be created forthwith. Nobody is going to beat an American at Marathon eating! Why, just walk down the street in Augusta, Georgia and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s now 2007 and the conviction was that nobody could oust Kobayahsi: he had won six championships in a row. But then came a nobody from California named (beautifully) Joey Chestnut. Inside his intestines burned an intense desire to take back the belt for the Red, White, & Blue, especially on the Day of Days for this great country.
Chestnut slammed Kobayashi; the little guy didn’t know what hit him as Joey sucked down 66 dogs in 12 minutes. Wow! American spirit soared. Just as it would do so a year later when Chestnut again bested Kobayshi; as he did again in 2009, this time eating 68—sixty-eight!!—dogs in only 10 minutes.
Then came 2010. Kobayshi refused to enter the tournament, claiming a “contract dispute.” Nonsense, said the organizers: they ask all contestants to sign a standard release which hadn’t changed from previous years. I speculate that Kobayshi couldn’t stomach competing against—and losing to—Chestnut again. So he invented the story of a “dispute” to save face.
Which might have worked, had he not bansai-ed the stage after watching Chestnut suck down 54 dogs in 10 minutes. He probably thought to himself that he could have done more than 54. But it was near 100 degrees yesterday, which limited Chestnut’s intake.
Oh, poor Takeru! He’s on his way home, via Rikers, on an empty stomach. It didn’t have to be this way.
The contest began in 1913. Back then, there were only 3.5 minutes allocated. But after the tournament became (locally) popular, it was changed to 10 minutes. This was altered in 1991 to 12 minutes; but worries about human limitations (after Chestnut’s performance) caused the organizers to reduce the time back to 10 minutes in 2008.
Therefore, to compare the numbers from year to year, we must look at the number of hot dogs eaten per minute. That’s what the graph below shows.
The rate of increase through the late 1970s until the mid 1990s was sedate, respectable. But now you can see how the Kobayashi took the world aback with his gorgeous gustatory gluttony: just look at that jump in 2001!
We can now see how Chestnut’s fortitude in 2007 traumatized poor Takeru. The rate of increase in dogs-per-minute was too much for the little man to match.
The only thing that appears capable of stopping Chestnut is the weather.