Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Go, USA!

By Larry McShane

He had just inhaled a staggering 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes -- an average of one every 10.9 seconds -- to seize the world's hot dog eating championship from a six-time titlist. But if his victory was gut-wrenching for spectators, Joey Chestnut himself wasn't feeling it.

"If I needed to eat another one right now, I could," the 23-year-old Californian said after receiving the mustard-yellow belt emblematic of hot dog eating supremacy.

Chestnut -- the great red, white and blue hope in Coney Island's annual Fourth of July competition -- broke his own world record Wednesday to take the title, knocking off reigning winner Takeru Kobayashi in a showdown that combined drama, daring and indigestion.

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Kobayashi, the Japanese eating machine, recently had a wisdom tooth extracted and received chiropractic treatment due to a sore jaw. But the winner of the last six Nathan's hot dog competitions showed no ill effects as he stayed with Chestnut frank-for-frank until the very end of the 12-minute competition.

Once the contest ended, the runner-up suffered a reversal -- competitive eating-speak for barfing -- that led to a deduction from his final total. Kobayashi finished with 63 HDBs (hot dogs and buns eaten) in his best performance ever.

Competitors receive credit for anything in their mouths at the 12-minute mark, provided they can swallow it.

"Obviously, the last bit exited his mouth quite dramatically," said Rich Shea of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. Kobayashi's gastric distress was the only sour note in the tube-steak tussle, which aired nationally on ESPN.

Kobayashi's previous best was 53 1/2 in the Coney Island competition, which dates back to 1916. The all-time record before Wednesday's remarkable contest was Chestnut's 59 1/2 , set just last month in Phoenix.

The two gastrointestinal gladiators quickly distanced themselves from the rest of the 17 competitors, processing more beef than a slaughterhouse within the first few minutes. The two had each downed 60 hot dogs with 60 seconds to go when Chestnut -- the veins on his forehead extended -- put away the final franks to end Kobayashi's reign.

Kobayashi, through a translator, promised to return for the 2008 event.

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The victory by the San Jose, Calif., resident ended Japan's long dominance of the contest. The only previous non-Japanese winner since 1996 was New Jersey's Steve Keiner in 1999. Third place this year went to another American, Patrick Bertoletti of Chicago, with 49.

"This title's been held by Kobayashi for six years, so it's about time it came home," said Chestnut, holding an American flag in his arms. "I knew going into this contest that Kobayashi was going to give 100 percent."

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