Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hot Dogs, A Jumping Redhead, and Unadulterated Patriotism

On July 4th, I woke up early and headed out to Coney Island for the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition. I figuring this might be the last fourth of July I'm in New York, so I didn't want to miss it. I arrived at my destination by 8:30 am and secured a great spot in front of the stage. Now it was just a matter of waiting around four hours or so until the actual competition. The weather was perfect, so everyone was in good spirits. The time goes by very quickly because from about ten o'clock on, there are plenty of opening acts to pass the time.

This is the third time I've seen the competition and it is nothing short of spectacular. ESPN covers the event live and the crowd is nuts. Thousands upon thousands of people come out for what is considered THE most important event in competitive eating. The contenders are athletes in the truest since of the word. Many of the competitors travel the world entering and winning various eating contests, anything from cole slaw, mayonaisse, jalapenos, ice cream, cake or oysters. It's bizarre, but no more bizarre than people dressing up like Stormtroopers in their spare time. It's all part of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, hosted and run by George Shea. George Shea is the genius behind this competition. He is quite the character and hypes up the crowd for hours before the countdown.

Eric "Badlands" Booker entertaining the crowd beforehand,
with girl on trampoline in the background

Takeru Kobayashi is the guy who truly redefined the sport as we know it. I've been a fan of Takeru Kobayashi since he entered the Hot Dog eating scene, winning the competition in 2001. The previous record was 25 hot dogs eaten in 12 minutes. The first year he entered, he devastated 50 hot dogs in the same time limit. Kobayashi had devised a strategy and method which blew away the competition. Now, his method has been widely learned and now his competition is tough, losing three years straight to American Joey Chestnut. When Chestnut won back The Mustard Belt three years ago, some consider it to be the greatest American moment in sports history. Both Kobayashi and Chestnut both broke the world's record on Saturday: Kobayashi - 64 hot dogs, Chestnut - 68 hot dogs. This year began the 10 minute time limit. Unbelievable.

Chestnut and Kobayashi intensely preparing for battle

It is worth noting that Kobayashi, as well most of the heavyweights in this competition are not obese at all. In fact, part of their success lies in the fact that they are skinny. Without the many layers of fat surrounding the body, their stomachs can stretch that much more than a larger person. One contender, Sonja Thomas (aka "The Black Widow"), can't weigh much more than 100 pounds. She is tiny, but she can take down 40 hot dogs, which ten years ago would have been considered legendary.

I have to admit that I was rooting for Kobayashi even though he isn't American mostly because is just seems like a cool guy who has truly found his niche, like any of the people entering the contest I suppose. Admittedly, I did have an overwhelming since of pride for my country when Chestnut won again. The crowd yelling U-S-A repeatedly does something to you. The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition is why I love America. Nowhere do I feel as patriotic. Only in America do you see a little person dressed like Uncle Sam dancing next to a guy in a hot dog suit. Only in America do we get to hear fat guys rapping about eating, while seeing an Olympic redhead (from Texas no less) doing flips on a trampoline. This is as good as it gets.


Various Video that I shot.

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