NEW YORK – Japanese eating champion Takeru Kobayashi, arrested at a July Fourth hot dog-eating contest, was freed Monday after a night in jail, looking a little weary and saying he was hungry.
Kobayashi, wearing a black T-shirt bearing the message "Free Kobi" in green letters, was freed by a Brooklyn judge after he pleaded not guilty. The slim, boyish 32-year-old said he consumed only a sandwich and some milk in jail.
A contract dispute had kept Kobayashi out of Sunday's annual Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, but he showed up anyway.
"I was there as a spectator, just to cheer on my buddies," he said through an interpreter outside court Monday. Fans chanted for him, and "in the heat of it, I jumped on the stage, hoping they would let me eat."
His attorney, Mario D. Romano, said his client was waved up onstage after spectators began chanting "Let him eat!"
"Shortly after he got on the stage, he was grabbed from behind by officers," Romano said.
Kobayashi was charged with obstruction of governmental administration, resisting arrest, trespassing and disorderly conduct.
Kobayashi, who's currently living in New York, had refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating, the fast food equivalent of the NFL. On his Japanese-language blog, he said he wanted to be free to enter contests sanctioned by other groups.
But a few days ago, he told Japan's Kyodo News: "I really want to compete in the (Coney Island) event."
Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., won by downing 54 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
After witnessing the drama involving Kobayashi, Chestnut said, "I feel bad for him."
Chestnut claimed the mustard-yellow champion's belt and a $20,000 purse but was disappointed with his own performance. The 26-year-old was aiming for a record 70 dogs in 10 minutes. Last year, he ate 68 dogs, four more than Kobayashi.
Major League Eating issued a statement calling Kobayashi's actions "inappropriate and unfortunate."
"Kobayashi was a great champion and we hope that he is able to resolve his current situation and move past this," the organization said.