Buns, Dogs, and Fury: Chow Down for Sport

It’s a sport that requires talent, dedication, and athleticism. Its competitors fight until they can’t breathe any longer – until there’s nothing left to give. But save maybe one day of the year, they’re unheralded. The effort that they give day in and day out is unparalleled. Yet why do eating competitions and their athletes get no love? Call them “boring,” call them “not a sport,” or call them “disgusting,” hot dog competitions have real entertainment value. They have everything a sports fan could ever ask for: amazing highlight reel action, a marketable and endearing superstar, and controversy. At “Nathan’s Fourth of July” hot dog fest, Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi, a man who is 113 pounds, ate 53 and a half hot dogs in 12 minutes! That is more than four-per-minute. Honestly, what is more astonishing? Watching 400 pound steroid enhanced thugs whack a ball around a park or watching a small Japanese man eat seven pounds worth of hot dogs in a little over ten minutes? These guys get no timeouts, they have no coaches teaching them technique, and they have no teammates to help pick them up when they’re not on their game. These players have guts, literally and figuratively. If they don’t play through pain, I don’t know who does. Kobayashi isn’t the sport’s only flamboyant athlete with a terrifying nickname; there’s “Hungry” Charles Hardy, and former U.S. record holder Eric “Badlands” Booker. There’s even a female star that young girls everywhere can look up to, Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas, who downed a ridiculous 32 hot dogs in 12 minutes despite being a miniscule 105 pounds. Competitive eating isn’t only limited to hot dogs, either; Joe Menchetti holds the conch fritter world record, of 45 in just six minutes. Wanna hear something that will really make you sick to your stomach? Oleg Zhornitskiy once manhandled four 32-ounce jars of mayonnaise in eight minutes. It’s not even close to stopping there; there are world record holders in eating spam, lobster, or even sweet potato casserole. Sport is not sport without controversy, and the competitive eating circuit is chock-full of it. Kobayashi, not unlike Lance Armstrong, has been taking strength and endurance drugs before a big race, although the drugs he is accused of taking involve relaxing the stomach muscles to allow more food intake. Also like Armstrong, Kobayashi has categorically denied taking any performance enhancing drugs, yet the country that hosts the most important race (in this case, the U.S.) seems to not want to believe that a foreigner could dominate a sport it knows and loves so much. And in 2002, when Kobayashi performed valiantly, his American counterparts demanded that his belt be taken away. Honestly, what kind of self-respecting country undermines the brilliance of foreign athletes like that? Anyways, while Kobayashi has continued to deny the use of illegal drugs, he does reportedly use Alka-Seltzer and water, the eating competitors’ equivalent of Gatorade and Powerbars. In all, it seems pretty obvious that eating is a hardcore sport. So why then, do we continue to ignore it? After all, eating is our country’s past time, and eating seems to be a pretty marketable sport. Maybe when an American hero comes along, like a Michael Jordan of eating, and promotes the sport well enough, we could have the “Bluff’s Run Casino World Smoked Pork Eating Championship” on ESPN. I think it could happen sooner than you think.