Ah, competitive eating. The debate rages – is it a sport? Or a disgusting display of gluttony and physical self-abuse? Or both?
Whatever the decision, it’s undeniable that things heated up in preparation for the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, held July 4th at historic Coney Island.Eaters from all over the world converged to choke down as many frankfurters as they can in a mere ten minutes. If you’re new to the sport, I’m going to fill you in on the five coolest people in the gurgitation business, and why you should care about them.
The Japanese champion, known as the “Tsunami,” is probably the most famous competitive eater of all time. Coming to prominence in the early 2000s, Kobayashi turned eating from a sport dominated by fat loads of crap by proving that a skinny Asian guy could pack down food at impossible speeds. In his 2001 rookie appearance at Nathan’s Famous, he doubled the world record by eating 50 dogs in 12 minutes.
He won every year until 2007, when he was dethroned by Joey Chestnut after suffering a jaw injury – even after beating his personal best with 63 hot dogs. But the whip-thin Kobayashi, who sports washboard abs, has come back strong this year, and still holds astounding records for eating cow brains (17.7 pounds in 15 minutes), rice balls (20 pounds in 30 minutes), and lobster rolls (41 in 10 minutes).
The Lex Luthor to Kobayashi’s Superman, Chestnut came from seemingly nowhere to defeat the incumbent champion for the Mustard Belt in 2007, beating the injured Kobayashi. Next year, he tied Takeru, forcing the contest into overtime, where he sneaked out another victory, proving that the new kid was no fluke.
The 225-pound Chestnut started competitive eating in 2005 and has rose rapidly to the top of the rankings, holding nearly two dozen world records in foods like Pizza Hut P’Zones (4.82 pounds in 6 minutes), Jalapeno Poppers (118 in 10 minutes) and chicken wings (241). Joey retained his crown by putting down 68 in this year’s competition.
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas
Competitive eating was seen as a man’s game until the Korean-born Sonya Thomas burst onto the scene in 2003. Weighing in at barely 100 pounds, Thomas demonstrates once and for all that gurgitation isn’t dependent on size – the tiny Alexandria, Virginia native has beaten some of the sport’s best, including Eric Booker, Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi.
She set an American hot dog record in 2003, and has gone on to compete in some of the sport’s most memorable contests. Her records? 65 hard-boiled eggs in under 7 minutes. 7 ¾ pounds turducken (that’s a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey) in 12 minutes. And 80 chicken nuggets in 5 minutes. Not a cheap date, fellas.
Tim “Eater X” Janus
Competitive eating, like many other sports, has an element of performance to it, and one eater who fully embraces a sense of showmanship is New York gustator Tim Janus. Janus, who dubs himself “Eater X,” shows up for competitions with his face painted Ultimate Warrior style and tucks into food with insane gusto. He was voted the IFOCE’s 2004 Rookie of the Year and has continued to place highly in competitions all over the Northeast.
Unlike many of the eaters on this list, Janus holds down a real job as a day trader when he’s not throwing back food. He has also used his fame to draw attention to the plight of the homeless and hungry by consuming a Thanksgiving dinner for four single-handedly in exchange for a $6000 donation to Second Harvest. Eater X’s records include 4 pounds of tiramisu in 6 minutes, over 10 pounds of ramen noodles in 8 minutes, and 141 pieces of sushi in 6 minutes.
Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti
This Chicago native is widely regarded to be the next big name in the sport of competitive eating. At just 24, he has accomplished some remarkable feats in his three years in the business, and currently ranks #2 in the world. Interestingly enough, Bertoletti recently graduated college as a culinary major, proving that he loves food in quality as well as quantity.
Oh, but what quantities – Pat’s records include 263 pickled jalapeno peppers in 15 minutes, 42 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in 10 minutes and 21 pounds of grits in 10 minutes. That last one makes my head spin. And my gut.
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