Takeru Kobayashi had won six straight. Nathan’s belt had a new home in the far east, and Japan stood as birthplace to the greatest competitive eater in history.
Joey Chestnut, a 22 year old sophmore at San Jose University had been making some rumblings. He burst onto the scene in 2005, defeating Rich LeFevre – a high-ranked eater – in a deep fried asparagus eating contest. He placed third in Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest the same year, behind Sonya Thomas and the champion Kobayashi. He went one better in 2006, placing second, by only one and three quarter hot dogs..
As the 2007 contest approached, his preparation could not have been better. He kicked off his year in February, chomping down a record 182 wings, for a second consecutive win at Wing Bowl. One month before the contest, in a small town in Phoenix, Arizona, he set a new hot dog eating world record. He devoured 59 and a half hot dogs and buns…he was coming for that belt.
The day arrived with much anticipation.
It was old guard against up-and-comer; experience against youth; east versus west. Fans of Kobayashi cheered for him, loyal to their champion. The Japanese contingent cheered for their compatriot, willing him to bring the belt back to the place it had been for 10 out of the last 11 years. Chestnut’s following, one he had slowly built up in his short time in the sport, cheered every bite. And of course the American population were willing him to wrestle the title back to where it belonged.
Kobayashi’s health had sparked rumours in the competitive eating world. The removal of a wisdom tooth had left him with a painful jaw. He had been receiving chiropractic treatment up to two hours before the contest began. He insisted he was 100%, and when the contest began he easily kept pace with the American.
Little by little, bite after bite, the two favourites began to pull away from the rest of the field. As the contest entered it’s final minute, both had broken Chestnut’s world record, each consuming 60 hot dogs. With 30 seconds remaining, both were on 61 each…they were treating the crowd to a contest for the ages.
The time ticked down. At 20 seconds remaining, Joey had pulled ahead by one; at 10 seconds remaining Kobayashi had pulled back level, making it 62-62.
When time was finally called, and the final count had concluded, the score read: 66 for the Chestnut; 63 for Kobayashi.
He had done what many people had been trying to do for six years, what only one person had managed to do in the last 11 years; he had brought that belt home. Kobayashi is a fighter, a true champion, and it took something special to beat him. Eating 63 hot dogs, Kobayashi would have won the contest any previous year; he even beat his own PB by 8 dogs. But Chestnut proved why he would become as great, if not greater, than the Japanese legend.
The following year, with the scores tied at 60-60, Chestnut won a 5 dog eat off (click here to see a video of the contest). Kobayashi made his last appearance at Coney Island in 2009, but in 2011 he simultaneously competed with the eaters at Nathan’s via live video broadcast on a rooftop Manhattan bar. He ate 69, 7 more than Chestnut’s official winning total that year, and set a new world record, one that has yet to be broken.
From 2007 until last year, Joey Chestnut won 8 straight Nathan’s Hot Dog contests, cementing his place in the history books as the best ever. Losing last year was somewhat inevitable few would argue. Matt Stonie had been on a whirlwind of food domination, and was the number one ranked competitive eater going into it.
Joey will come back biting harder than ever before this year, and who knows, perhaps that 70 dog barrier will finally be broken.
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