Competitive eating has its drawbacks

Karl Terry, Portales News-Tribune Managing Editor

Finally the Mustard Belt has returned home. It makes me proud to be an American.

If you missed it, the annual Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest held on the Fourth of July at Coney Island was won this year by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut from San Jose, Calif. He snapped a nearly decade-long dominance at the contest by Japanese competitive eaters and dethroned the six-time champion, Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi, by eating an incredible 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. That’s better than 10 dogs a minute!

The contest was carried live on ESPN. When I landed on the channel broadcasting it I was amazed that it was given a buildup and flavor somewhere between the Super Bowl and a professional wrestling event. There were interesting feature stories about the lives of some of the contestants, “Crazy Legs” Conti for instance operates a sideshow attraction at Coney Island. ESPN thoroughly covered the flap over Kobayashi’s reported jaw problems prior to the contest. Was it head games? Was the champ really going to be competing through the pain?

All the contestants, about 20 of them, had nicknames like wrestlers, some wore costumes or face paint to take the act a little further but all seemed deadly serious about eating fast. Even Dale Boone, a direct descendant of Daniel Boone, clad in his faux dalmatian skin cap had his game face on.

Another interesting thing I noticed was there was only one fat guy on the stage, “Pat From Moonachie” Philbin. He weighed in at a little over 330 pounds. By contrast, the reigning champ Kobayashi weighs only 165 pounds. One of the female contestants, Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, was only 105 pounds.

After boxing announcer-like introductions, the contest began with Chestnut getting out to a “healthy” early lead but Kobayashi battled back at the end to make it a contest. But despite the effort Chestnut proved to the world that Americans can eat more than anyone else on the planet.
The only real ugly part of the televised match was the slow-motion footage of what the ESPN commentators politely called a potential reversal by Kobayashi at the end. I really didn’t need to see that.

I can’t recall actually ever entering an eating contest myself but I’ve always thought if I could find a contest with homemade chocolate pie I would enter. I was, however,once the subject of a bet years ago when I worked in the mailroom at the PNT.

One day a coworker mentioned that no one could drink a full gallon of water in half an hour. I disputed the fact and bet the guy I could do it myself. Soon the mailroom resembled the scene in the movie “Coolhand Luke” where Paul Newman claims he can eat 50 eggs in an hour. Sides were taken, side bets were placed and someone produced a gallon glass jar of water.

The first three-quarters of the gallon went down easy. After that it seemed there was no more room. I tried walking to make more room but that didn’t work. I tried stomach massage, but that didn’t work either. The clock was ticking down to the final minute and I finally decided I had to make my move or disappoint my followers.

I tipped the jar back to finish it but after a couple of gulps a strange feeling came over my body. Suddenly I seemed to lose control over basic bodily functions — like swallowing. That’s when my reversal occurred. A fountain — sort of — that scattered newspaper carriers quicker than you could say “upchuck.”

I lost the bet and I never took up competitive eating.

Kar Terry is managing editor of the Portales News -Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33 or e-mail: