Eyewitness to History on Happy America Day

I am proud to be an American this July 4th, 2007. Eating a late breakfast, I was treated to the 92nd annual Nathan’s International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest broadcast live on ESPN. The announcers did their best to hype it up to Super Bowl status, and for good reason: the title has gone to a Japanese citizen every year since 1999.

I have to confess that I’ve been a Nathan’s Famous hot dog fan for years now, ever since seeing a History Channel special on hot dog lore throughout the US. A good bit of the show was about Nathan’s and its Coney Island origins. Hot dog competition back then was fierce, and dogs sold by unscrupulous vendors had the reputation of containing what we can call “mystery meat.” Nathan’s dogs were all-beef, high quality products. To prove to the public his 5 cent hot dogs were good to eat, he made a deal with local doctors: eat free if you eat in doctor’s garb so people can see you.

A while after seeing the show and learning this tidbit of food history, I was in the local Winn-Dixie one day, and low and behold, on the hot dog shelf there sat packages of none other than Nathan’s Famous, available without a trip to the Big Apple. Needless to say, I bought a pack, and they were pretty good, juicy and great flavor: a lot more of a garlicky taste than most dogs.

Back to today. A whole slew of contestants were introduced and as they made their way onto the stage they passed in front of a board listing all the previous winners. I noticed the winner from 1984 with 9 1/2 dogs eaten to win. Astonishing, as the pre-contest hype revealed that last year’s winner Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi (also the winner from 2001-2005) ate 53 3/4 hot dogs.

This year, the hype was about Kobayashi’s claim that a sore jaw kept him from opening his mouth more than “two fingers” wide. The great American Hope, Joey Chestnut, was expected to take back the crown for the USA.

Indeed he did. Leading Kobayashi for all of the contest except for a brief moment with about 2 minutes left, Chestnut downed 66 dogs in 12 minutes, a new world record. It wasn’t pretty. At the end, with a few seconds left, Kobayashi spewed out a dog’s worth or two, or, as the ESPN announcers called it, had a “reversal.” Wikipedia referred to it as a “Roman method incident” which could have led to his disqualification. After careful review of the spew, (eww), the judges ruled in his favor and the Tsunami ended in 2nd place with 63 dogs (officially) downed.

One Response to Eyewitness to History on Happy America Day

  1. www.nolanotes.com on July 5, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    I’ve seen a special on Kobayashi–what he does to “train.” He can put away some food!! He was the first (I think) to eat the dog separate from the bun–revolutionary!! Go USA!!!

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