Thursday, July 05, 2007

"The Greatest Moment in American Sports"

A legend was born yesterday, as Joey "Jaws" Chestnut of San Jose, California became the first person to out-eat Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi on American soil. He ended Kobayashi's six year stranglehold on the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition.

The news has been running a quick item at the end of each broadcast, and this is the type of story people will link to their friends all day, but I don't think people know how important this is within the landscape of competitive eating.

Chestnut has spent his entire career in the shadow of Kobayashi, barely losing to him the past several years in the Nathan's Hot Dog, Krystal Burgers, and Johnsonville Brats competitions, the three most important stops on the world circuit. While Chestnut holds many records, including asparagus (8.6 lbs/10 min.), grilled cheese sandwiches (47/10 min.), pork ribs (8.4 lbs/10 min.), waffles (18.5/10 min.), and, of course, his specialty of wings (182/30 min.), Kobayashi doesn't travel to the states for those competitions. Whenever the Japanese superstar had deigned to travel for a competition, he had won.

This was obviously getting to Chestnut. He even tried to find creative ways to give himself an edge. For the 2007 brat competition, he actually chose to hang back and eat fewer brats in the qualifier, so that he would get a lower seed and not have to eat next to the Tsunami. He was visibly intimidated by the man.

Not yesterday. Right next to the number one ranked eater in the world, Joey Chestnut crammed sixty-six hot dogs down his throat and took back what is rightfully America's, the world record and the mustard yellow belt that signifies true gluttony. As if the insult of losing to Chestnut wasn't bad enough, Kobayashi was humiliated by a late reversal, competitive eating's euphemism for throwing up. It was glorious.

Can Chestnut enjoy it though? Up until three days ago, it was unclear whether or not Kobayashi would even compete. Shaken emotionally by the recent death of his mother and receiving therapy for a sore jaw, he almost didn't come. By the time of the competition, he claimed to be competing at one hundred percent and indeed broke his own personal record. But will there be an asterisk next to Chestnut's name if Kobayashi paces him next year?

I always feared that Chestnut would become less dedicated if he ever beat Kobayashi. Beating him, just once, not even in the Nathan's, had become his life's work. Now that he has achieved that, how willing is he to remain at the top? It's important for him to remember this moment and work hard to beat Kobayashi again and again, first in the P'Zone Competition on July 10, then in every competition after that.

Wayne Norbitz, president and COO of Nathan’s Famous, said yesterday, “This year our nation has new hope for glory.” But it will all be for naught if Chestnut doesn't seize his destiny.


Bryan said...

I think it's telling, both in regard to your writing ability and my constant struggle with my own cynicism, that I can't really tell if you've got a smarmy, tongue-in-cheek smirk on your face as you're typing this, or if you've got a genuine sense of pride in this story.

I think that it's a bit of both, which is both maddeningly complex and completely understandable.


MT said...

Man, I forgot you had caught on to the competitive eating. With Kobyashi going down, injury included, it's still a big moment for the sport. It'll be something to watch. Are we ready for an American Gastrointestinal hero?

Speaking of which, does this mean your boy Chesnut will be at the Wing Bowl in philly come next January. You know you're obligated to go, right?

Tank said...

It's a bit of both, B.

The Wing Bowl isn't until February, but you bet your ass I'll be at the Wachovia Center that day.