The Fourth of July holiday is full of traditions and memories for people.
A day at the lake, grilled burgers, hanging with family and of course fireworks.
For me, one Fourth of July tradition I keep is watching the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on ESPN.
Sponsored by Nathan’s Famous Corporation known for its hot dogs and taking place on Coney Island, NY, the competition is the “Super Bowl” of sorts for competitive eating. Since most activities that take place in competition format and crown a world champion are fascinating to me to some degree, I have been interested how this group of people eats as much as I do in a week in about 10-12 minutes every Fourth of July.
Most people think competitive eating is a freak show and are grossed out by the aesthetic of someone stuffing their mouths for about 10 minutes. I can get past that because I am amazed with how fast they chew and swallow said food only to stuff their mouth again.
It is relatable in the fact we all eat every day of our lives. Most people have eaten a hot dog. At some point we have all tried to eat a meal fast. Now watch people who can eat not only fast but more than seems humanly possible.
I have been watching or keeping up with the contest since the early 2000s, right when the whole scene was taken to a new level.
Takeru Kobayashi, a skinny Japanese man, won the contest in 2001. He had never eaten a hot dog until the day of competition. He did not just break the record of 25 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He doubled the record and ate 50 hot dogs. His closest competitor only ate 26.
This started a six-year reign championship with Kobayashi starting several trends. His competitors now had a rabbit to chase and, seeing how seriously he took the competition, they also upped their preparation and commitment.
With no close competitors, Kobayashi was only able to up his record to 53 ½ during the next four years. His physique changed over time, but instead of gaining fat like one would expect, he gained muscle. Now looking like a shredded lean body builder, bulking up to as high as 192 pounds, Kobayashi still looked different from his competitors. Keeping unnecessary weight down and increasing muscle allowed more room for his stomach to expand, Kobayashi claimed.
In 2006, Kobayashi barley broke his record by eating 53 ¾ hot dogs and buns, but was seriously challenged for the first time ever by an American construction engineer named Joey Chestnut. An average looking guy weighing in at 230 pounds, Chestnut finished with 52 hot dogs and vowed to take the title back for America next year.
Chestnut did just that, beating Kobayashi in 2007 with a new world record of 66. They battled the next two years and even with the time going down to 10 minutes from 12, Chestnut won both years and upped the record to 68 hot dogs in 2009.
That would be the last year Kobayashi would compete at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Competitors at the event are forced to sign a contract with Major League Eating, which he refused to sign. He attended and attempted to get on stage at the 2010 competition, but was arrested and has not been back since.
Chestnut has won almost every year since 2007, losing once to a young skinny American named Matt Stonie. Chestnut raised the record to 74 hot dogs and buns on Wednesday.
For comparison’s sake, the 10th Annual KFDX Hot Dog Eating Contest at Castaway Cove in Wichita was won by Ozzie Gutierrez eating 13 hot dogs in eight minutes.
Stonie has gained internet fame by filming himself doing eating challenges on his personal Youtube channel. His channel has more than 5.2 million subscribers. Apparently I am not the only person who wants to see someone eat 25 Big Macs in 22 minutes.
Since 2011, there has been enough interest from women to have their own contest. Before they would compete with the men and a small Asian American women named Sonya Thomas more than held her own.
She won the first three years of the women’s competition and still has the women’s record of eating 45 in 10 minutes. The last five years have been dominated by another woman named Miki Sudo. One of the reasons I watch sports is seeing what the human body is capable of doing when pushed to the limit.
Watching the fastest runners in the world draws admiration. Watching the strongest humans in the world lift is awe inspiring. Watching the best eaters in the world, for me, is on that level.
To read the full story, pick up a copy of the weekend edition of the Bowie News.