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Dog days

(article, Kim Carlson)

Is it the NASCAR of food? Or an underrated sport? Competitive eating is getting some attention this week, as Slate reports with much more earnestness than we can mustard:

bq.On June 24, Japan's Takeru Kobayashi posted some troubling news on his blog: The greatest eater in the world could no longer open his mouth. The culprit? An arthritic jaw. Kobayashi, who has dominated every Fourth of July hot-dog-eating contest since 2001, later blamed the injury on wisdom teeth that had grown in crookedly, coupled with overly vigorous training. As the Google translation put it, "Long time strength training, becoming big stress in the jaw, it is to be accumulated." Sounds reasonable—and if Kobayashi's jaw had crapped out six months ago, few would have noticed. But this is hot dog season. When the champ implied that he might not compete in this Wednesday's big contest at Coney Island, the 29-year-old's refusenik mandible was the lead story on the New York Times' Web site. A few days later, he beat a quick retreat. "Thanks to everyone's support," he blogged, "I am able to aggressively pursue treatment for my condition. . . . I look forward to facing my fellow competitors on July 4th!"

Will Kobayashi maintain his title, or will an upstart unseat him?

bq.Two years ago, Kobayashi was the only person alive who could eat at least 40 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. Now, three young American eaters can too: Joey Chestnut (59.5), Patrick Bertoletti (46), and 'Tim (41.5). Chestnut now holds the world record for hot dogs, having beaten Kobayashi's prior record of 53.75 at a June qualifier. He predicts he'll eat 65 franks on Wednesday.

Ugh — 65 franks. That practically ruins my appetite for any dogs — but not quite. Tomorrow we'll bow to tradition and grill up some locally made hot dogs that are worth a trip across town for. (Don't take my word for it; the Sterns love Otto's too.) And some coleslaw and cold beer alongside.

As for the Coney Island contest? We'll, uh, relish the results — after dinner.