Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011



In what is rapidly becoming the most anticipated event on FOURTH OF JULY, yesterday's HOT DOG EATING COMPETITION rocked!  Held each year on the famed CONEY ISLAND boardwalk, Monday's intense competition was once again won by JOEY CHESTNUT.  The five-time champ managed to consume a whopping 62 Hot Dogs in the allotted time of ten minutes.  While it wasn't his best performance (Joey holds the all-time record of 68) our hero still hoisted the "Bejeweled Mustard Yellow Belt" high over his head.   The 40,000 spectators packed on the boardwalk stands cheered in jubilation!

Never heard of the NATHAN'S HOT DOG EATING COMPETITION?  Don't feel bad...it is a rather odd tradition.  It all started in the year 1916 when four recent immigrants were celebrating the Fourth of July on the Coney Island boardwalk.  Unfortunately, the festive gathering turned argumentative when one man, JAMES MULLIN, declared that he was the most patriotic of the four.  Just how this disagreement turned into a competition involving eating hot dogs and why people choose to re-enact it again are hard questions to answer.  But...for whatever reason...every Fourth of July since, folks have gathered in South Brooklyn at Nathan's Hot Dog stand to see who can be the next king.

Over the next century, enthusiasm for the event had its ups and downs.  One year it was held underneath the Brooklyn Bridge with only a handful of competitors.  The competition, which used to receive limited news coverage...like a small article buried on page 37 of the NEW YORK POST...slowly began to mushroom. Nowadays, it's televised live on ESPN and seen by 1.8 million viewers worldwide.   Interest surged in 2001 when the colorful TAKERU KOBAYASHI won his first title.  The diminutive Japanese citizen amazed the world with his tenacious eating skills and went on to win an unprecedented seven Mustard-Yellow belts.

Unfortunately, with fame and fortune comes a huge level of bureaucracy.  These days, contestants need to qualify to get to Coney Island by winning one of eight regional hot-dog eating competitions.  Such events are held under the close eye of the INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF COMPETITIVE EATING, or IFOCE for short.  (Either way, it must be one the silliest organizations ever founded.)  The rules state that everyone must first sign a contract  which strictly forbids any participation in non-IFOCE events.  This agreement lead to a nasty legal dispute when KOBAYASHI appeared numerous times on Japanese TV shows, which absolutely love silly stuff like this.  Consequently, the "Japanese Tsunami" was banned from Coney Island forever.

However, KOBAYASHI has not gone away quietly, much to the chagrin of MLE (Major League Eating).  Last year, he was arrested by NYPD when jumped onstage in protest.  This year, he rented the rooftop of the Manhattan bar 230 FIFTH.  Beside an enormous TV airing the live ESPN broadcast, he "competed" against Chestnut and the others.  He managed to eat 69 dogs: One more than the all time record!  While he had two judges present, it will not be recognized as a true record.  "I want to remain free to compete in events," Kobayashi said. "Today was a great success." GEORGE SHEA, the irate MLE president, replied: “The champion of the world is crowned in Coney Island. Always has been, always will be. He put a tin crown on his head and called himself king."

Leave it to Americans to come up with something as stupid as a Hot Dog Eating competition...then ruin it 100 years later with legal absurdities!

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