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Coney Island contender

Chestnut fails in quest to become hot dog-eating champ

Posted: Wednesday July 5, 2006 4:56PM; Updated: Friday July 7, 2006 12:45PM
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The Walk-On
Pablo S. Torre is a senior at Harvard and a summer intern at SI.com. He's still hoping for a record deal from Ron Artest and Tru Warier Records.

Joey Chestnut appears ready to burst afer inhaling 52 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
Joey Chestnut appears ready to burst afer inhaling 52 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
AP
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By Pablo S. Torre

Joey Chestnut couldn't help himself. On a stage constructed atop the storied corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues -- by now, a graveyard of hot dog parts and sopping bread -- he hunched over and sat, his stomach stuffed and reeling.

The chants of "Joey, Joey" had died, faded into the hissing roar of the Brooklyn seashore. Now, under the glare of camera lenses and live television, the 22-year-old found it best to handle the casualty of his dream sitting down.

Who could blame him?

The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is arguably the most exhausting 12 minutes in sports -- however broadly you wish to define such a term -- and Chestnut had just made history by eating a mind-boggling 52 dogs and buns, shattering the American record of 50 "HDB's"  (the official unit of measurement for frankfurters plus buns) which he himself set in a qualifying event in May.

Yet, somehow, the 220-pound San Jose State student had lost. He lost, in fact, like everyone does in the world of competitive eating: frantically, and to Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi -- a man who treats the Fourth of July not as a holiday, but an occasion to reaffirm his own divinity.

This year, Kobayashi consumed 53.75 HDB's, setting a new world record. His 53.5 was the previous mark, something the Japanese marvel accomplished two years ago. (He ate a relatively pedestrian 49 in 2005.)

"I'm heartbroken a little bit," Chestnut said before the cameras officially turned on, sweat running down his reddened face. Reporters circled him. "I got a little bit tired. I should have pushed harder."

Only 1.75 hot dogs, he realized, were all that kept him from making gurgitory history.

Kobayashi, of course, has been nothing short of the unofficial king of Coney Island, winning the so-called Super Bowl of competitive eating every year since he first entered in 2001. He has set four world records over that span and revolutionized the discipline altogether, both in terms of methodology and image.

By Chestnut's own admission, Kobayashi is the sport's "greatest competitor," a groundbreaking legend with no losses and no rival.

"He was the first one to actually treat it like a sport," Chestnut said. "The first one to step it up and show that you don't have to be a 400-pound guy anymore. You can be an athlete and be healthy."

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