News Column

July 4 Hot Dog Contest: The Superbowl of Eating

July 2, 2009


hot dog, eating contest, george shea, joey chestnut, nathan's
2008 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest Champ Joey Chestnut, courtesy

If the official game of Thanksgiving is football, then the spectator sport for the July 4 is eating. Eating hot dogs, that is -- and as many as humanly possible in 10 minutes. Every Independence Day, New York's Coney Island hosts the Nathan's International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest, which some consider to be the "Superbowl of all eating events." Before you laugh, consider this: the Superbowl of hot dog eating has been around for 94 years, more than twice as long than the actual, football-centric Superbowl. And the crowds generated for the hot dog eating contest aren't much smaller; the 2006 match drew 30,000 spectators, and 1.5 million viewers watched the gorge-a-thon on ESPN. (About 70,000 people attended the last Superbowl.) This year, the event, put on the by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), will once again be broadcast by ESPN Through the years, two rivaling hot dog stars have emerged: Takeru Kobayashi of Japan and Joey Chestnut of California. In last year's July 4 contest, six-time champ Kobayashi faced off with defending champ Chestnut for the title. It was an epic showdown, with each of them wolfing down 59 dogs in 10 minutes -- buns included. It was the contest's first-ever tie, which was broken in a five-dog eat-off after the event. For patriotic fans of competitive eating, it was a proud moment: 25-year-old Chestnut was the victor. The 6-foot-2 student at San Jose State University -- who weighs a hefty 210 pounds -- was awarded the "Mustard Belt" and $10,000 prize. But many consider the 5-foot-8 Kobayashi to be the best competitive eater of all time. The 31-year-old man, who weighs in at a diminutive 130 pounds, holds numerous records, including most rice balls in 30 minutes (20 pounds) and -- disgustingly -- most cow brains consumed in 15 minutes (nearly 18 pounds). Traditionally, the July 4 eating event includes about 20 contestants, who stand at a long table while chowing down in front of the cameras. For this year's 94th annual competition, both superstar eaters are expected to again be the top-two frank inhalers. Campy as the contest may be -- a mere moment of perennial announcer George Shea's masterful hyperbole almost demands a chuckle -- for gamblers, it's a serious affair. Sportsbooks post the odds on the event, and so far, Chestnut is the favorite by a narrow margin over Kobayashi. "There is nothing quite like watching a small man eat 50 hot dogs in about 10 minutes," opined the blog "Even more amazing is watching men of massive weight lose in the early stages of the competition."

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