By: Adam Olsen
CONEY ISLAND, N.Y.—On a day when good citizens of the USA celebrate independence from tyranny, freedom from oppression and the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there is another group of unsung heroes in one corner of the country celebrating an entirely different set of values.
Namely: gastric independence, freedom from self-restraint and the right to gluttony, intestinal discomfort and acid reflux.
On a hot and humid July Fourth, these heroes gathered together for a battle of wits and stomachs, and pitted their swallowing skills against each other in the famed Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
And on this day when citizens across the country stop to reflect about and celebrate what it means to be an American, it is only fitting that part of the festivities include a competition where the participants gorge themselves silly with hot dogs.
And only fitting that an American—Joey Chestnut of California—bring home the coveted Mustard Belt.
Chestnut beat famed hot dog eater and six-time champion Kobayashi from Japan for the second-straight year.
“It came down to who needed it more,” Chestnut said of the competition. “[Kobayashi] wanted it, but I needed it.”
Chestnut and Kobayashi ended the 10-minute contest dead even at 59 hot dogs. The tie sent the competition into a first-ever “Dog Off,” matching each finalist against each other one on one in a five hot dog, first-to-finish winner-take-all overtime. Both competitors pushed themselves to the absolute limits of mastication, but it was Chestnut that enjoyed a final burst of delicious, beefy adrenaline to win the competition outright.
Chestnut said the overtime was physically and emotionally taxing. “You don’t train to go a few more after the competition,”
When asked why he puts his body through the rigors of professional eating he replied, “It’s fun. I love to eat, I love the competition and it’s the Fourth of July. Only on a day like this can you get away with something so silly”
Kobayashi, the premier eater of his day, was crestfallen after the disappointing loss.
“[Chestnut] won because he was quicker than me in the dog-off” Kobayashi said through an interpreter.
The famed Japanese eater is said to have talked openly about retirement, but when asked if he would return, Kobayashi replied in perfect English: “Of Course.”
Eating is not what it used to be for professional eaters like Kobayashi. A thirty-year-old veteran, Kobayashi now frequently suffers from sports-related injuries, an aging digestive system and increased competition.
The pinnacle of modern-day eating, Kobayashi once enjoyed supremacy at the top of the eating chain. Now, after losing his second Coney Island showdown (Kobayashi lost to Chestnut last year after a costly jaw injury), Kobayashi will have to work harder than ever to remain competitive.
If eaters like he and Chestnut don’t, they could find themselves old news.
Chestnut has reportedly been exercising his upper-abdomen muscles to help push food down into his belly faster, while Kobayashi, whose throat is already reptilian-like, will continue to put himself through rigorous eating workouts.
With a field full of sushi champions, ice cream eating champions and even lumberjack breakfast eating champions, neither competitor can afford to rest. Even now, as Chestnut and all the rest of the eaters sit back to let their bodies work through the hundreds of hot dogs they ate in mere minutes, the 2009 Mustard Belt looms in the distance.
And the eating revolution will continue.