Kobayashi looks to regain hot dog title

July 3, 2008 12:08:13 PM PDT
He's suddenly the hot dog underdog. World renowned competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi is aiming to chomp his way back to the top of the annual Fourth of July hot dog eating competition on Coney Island after a disappointing three-dog loss last year shattered his six-year winning streak.

And this year it's going to be even harder - organizers said two full minutes would be shaved from regulation time after it was recently revealed that the original competition in 1916 was just 10 minutes long, instead of the 12-minute limit used in more recent years.

Richard Shea, one of the founders of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, said organizers of the Coney Island showdown discovered the timing discrepancy in a pamphlet from around the time of the earliest contest.

Eaters will now have 10 minutes, like their frankfurter forefathers, in order to "restore the contest to its original length and maintain its integrity," Shea said.

The diminutive 30-year-old Kobayashi - a legend on the surprisingly serious competitive eating circuit - managed to scarf 63 dogs and buns in 12 minutes last year, three fewer than young up-and-comer Joey Chestnut, a 24-year-old Californian who outweighs him by more than 80 pounds.

It was a devastating defeat for Kobayashi, of Nagano, Japan. He had ruled the Coney Island frank fight every year since 2001.

Shea said there was some grumbling among the competitors about the shorter time limit, but said the veteran eaters may still be able to consume the same number of hot dogs, or even more, than when they had more time.

After organizers studied tapes of last year's competition, and closely watched the qualifying rounds for this year, they concluded that most participants taper their eating as time ticks by, choking down their greatest percentage of dogs in the first seven or eight minutes than in the final moments of competition.

Thus, they may be able to reach the same records that were set in 12-minute competitions, Shea said.

Last year Kobayashi was suffering some physical ailments, including a tooth problem and a sore jaw, which may have hampered his performance.

This time, he "can simply not be counted out," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a pre-competition rally and weigh-in on Thursday.

Weighing in at 128 pounds and dressed in basketball shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops, Kobayashi posed for pictures while flexing his muscles and holding up a hot dog and bun.

Chestnut, the 2007 champ, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, followed him to the scale, topping out at 210 pounds.

The two foes are among 21 competitors in Friday's showdown, including a pizza cook from New York City, a fishmonger from Chicago and a 110-pound mother of two from Maryland.


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