NEW YORK – Joey Chestnut reclaimed the top spot at the annual hot dog eating contest in Coney Island on Friday after first tying with archrival Takeru Kobayashi in a 10-minute chow-down and then beating him in a five-dog eat-off.
The men tied at 59 frankfurters in 10 minutes, before being made to gobble another five dogs in a last-minute tiebreaker. They consumed 64 hot dogs total and were looking quite peaked after the competition.
Kobayashi had hoped to reclaim the throne after a disappointing three-dog loss last year shattered his six-year winning streak.
"He wanted it, but I needed it," Chestnut said of his diminutive Japanese rival.
Thousands gathered at Coney Island on the Fourth of July to watch the gluttonous gladiators compete in the annual event. Chestnut emerged victorious for the second year in a row, beating 20 others who had only 10 minutes to scarf down as many hot dogs as possible, two minutes less than in previous years.
The regulation time was changed after it was revealed that the original competition in 1916 was just 10 minutes long, instead of the 12-minute limit used in more recent years. The switch made for a tense competition.
Chestnut quickly pulled ahead, with cheeks puffed as he crammed hot dogs into his mouth. At one point, the 24-year-old Californian led Kobayashi 14 to 11. Kobayashi fell to third place, but ate his way back and the two went dog-to-dog in the final stretch. After a frankfurter photo-finish, the judges decided it was a tie.
Richard Shea, one of the founders of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, said it was the first time in his memory the contest went into overtime.
As usual, Kobayashi's strategy was to eat all the dogs first, then dunk the buns and eat them. A pause while swallowing the soggy buns meant defeat.
"He should've won it, it was his to win," said judge Gersh Kuntzman said of the diminutive 30-year-old of Nagano, Japan.
The 128-pound legend in the competitive eating circuit told Brooklyn papers that he wasn't feeling 100 percent, and while he was improving, the tooth problem and sore jaw that hampered last year's performance were still something of a problem.
"If I put one more mouthful in, I could've won (in regulation)," Kobayashi said through a translator.
Their competitors also included a pizza cook from New York City, a fishmonger from Chicago and a 110-pound mother of two from Maryland.
Chestnut, who topped out at 210 pounds, downplayed his win, which includes $10,000 and the coveted mustard-yellow belt.
"It was crazy. I'm just a normal guy eating hot dogs on the Fourth," he said. "You can't overcomplicate it."
Chestnut said he was mentally prepared to eat 70, but his body was pushing back during the competition; it didn't want to swallow fast enough.
And it shouldn't want to. In fact, it's downright bad for your health, says Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor at New York University School of Medicine.
"Hot dogs are extremely unhealthy, especially when eaten at high volume," he said. "They're really processed, they have high cholesterol and too much salt."
And thanks to the quantities the competitors ate, they'll likely suffer nausea, bloat, headache, and possibly high blood pressure for several days as the body slowly digests the food.
"One is bad for you, five's worse and 50 is terrible," he said.
Luckily for the svelte first and second-place winners, being in better shape helps in digesting the food.
And any gastrointestinal woes won't deter Kobayashi. He says he'll be back for a rematch next year. Before that, the two will face off again at the Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship Sept. 28 in Chattanooga, Tenn.