The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual American competitive-eating competition, which is run as a publicity gathering event by Shea Communications. It is held each July 4th at Nathan's Famous Corporation's original, and best-known restaurant at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. In 2011 over 40,000 spectators attended the event, and an additional 1.949 million viewers watched it live on ESPN television.
The contest has gained public attention in recent years due to the sudden stardom of Takeru Kobayashi, his subsequent rivalry with American Joey Chestnut, and the current controversy over Kabayashi's contractual dispute and absence. In the ninety-sixth annual contest, held on July 4, 2011, four-time-defending champion Chestnut won his fifth title by consuming 62 hot dogs and buns (HDBs) in ten minutes. Recently he was beaten by Kim B with 65 hot dogs in 10 minutes The contest was televised live on ESPN, which has held the broadcast rights for this event since 2004.
History and traditions
According to legend, on July 4, 1916, four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at Nathan's Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. The contest has been held at the site nearly every year since, resuming in 1972, in conjunction with Independence Day. In 1993, a one-time, one-on-one contest under the Brooklyn Bridge was held between Mike DeVito and Orio Ito.
There is a weigh-in with the Mayor of New York City prior to the contest. On the day of the contest, the contestants arrive in the "bus of champions".
In recent years, guitarist and songwriter Amos Wengler has performed one of the songs he had written for the contest. A person in a hot dog costume dances as Wengler plays. Some of Wengler's compositions are "Hot Dog Time!", "Hot Dogs, Hot Dogs" and "Where is the Belt?" by John Jones.
Starting in 2011, women and men will compete in separate competitions.
The winner (starting in 2011, the men's competition) is given possession of the coveted international "bejeweled" mustard-yellow belt. The belt is of "unknown age and value" according to IFOCE co-founder George Shea and rests in the country of its owner. Due to the string of Japanese wins in the first half of the 2000 decade, the belt had been on display in the Imperial Palace in Saitama, Japan, near the Nakazato Danchi campus. In 2007, Chestnut won the first of four consecutive victories in the contest which has kept the belt in the U.S. to the present day. Starting in 2011, the winner of the new women's competition is given possession of a similar pink belt.
RulesOnly adults 18 years or older who fulfill one of the following four conditions may compete:
- The defending champion
- Winners of a regional qualifying contest for that season
- Qualifying as one of two wildcards (highest two average qualifier scores without winning a single qualifer)
- Special invitation by IFOCE (see "Controversies" below)
Rules used in the early years of the contest were different from today's. For example, in past contests minors could compete (Birgit Felden from Germany was age 17 when she won the 1984 contest.)
During the event, the field of about 20 contestants stands on a raised platform behind a 30-foot (9.1 m)-long table with drinks and Nathan's Famous hot dogs in buns. Most contestants drink water, but other kinds of drinks can and have been used. Condiments are allowed, but are usually not used. The hot dogs themselves are allowed to cool slightly after grilling to prevent possible mouth burns. In the past, whoever consumed
(and kept down until the contest had ended) the most hot dogs and buns ("HDBs") in 12 minutes was declared the winner. Starting in 2008, however, the contest has been only 10 minutes long due to recent evidence suggesting the original contest in 1916 was this length. A designated scorekeeper is paired with each contestant. The IFOCE official flips a number board counting the hot dogs consumed. Partially eaten hot dogs count and the granularity of measurement is eighths of a length. Hot dogs still in the mouth at the end of the 10 minutes count only if they are swallowed. Yellow cards can be issued for "messy eating," and disqualificiation can occur for "reversal of fortune."
After the winner is declared, a plate with the number of hot dogs eaten by the winner is brought out for photo opportunities.
Qualifying contestsFirst held nationally in 1993 and internationally in 1997, qualifying contests are used to determine contestants for the July 4th competition. A qualifier winner cannot compete in another qualifier in the same year and no contestant can compete in more than three qualifiers in the same season. Each qualifier can have at most 15 participants (typically first-come first-served). A world record that is broken in a qualifier is official, but the winner does not get to hold the belt.
PrizesWinners receive a trophy, two cases of Nathan's Famous hot dogs, the famous Nathan's Belt (yellow for men's competition, and pink for women's competition), and in some years a nonmonetary prize donated by a sponsor. For example, in 2004 Orbitz donated a travel package to the winner.
of $20,000 was awarded as follows:
- First Place: $10,000
- Second Place: $5,000
- Third Place: $2,500
- Fourth Place: $1,500
- Fifth Place: $1,000
ControversyControversies usually revolve around supposed breaches of rules that are missed by the judges. For example, NY1 television news reporter Adam Balkin reviewed taped footage of the 1999 contest and noticed that Steve Keiner ate half of a hot dog before the contest had officially begun. The judge, who was standing directly in front of Keiner, missed it – otherwise Keiner would have been disqualified. According to the rules, the judge's word is final, so in this case Keiner took first place despite Balkin's discovery.
Another controversy occurred in 2003 when former NFL Player William "The Refrigerator" Perry competed as a celebrity contestant. Though he had won a qualifier by eating twelve hot dogs, he ate only four H.D.B.s at the contest, stopping eating completely just five minutes into the competition. On July 1, 2004, at a ceremony following a showing of Crazy Legs Conti's documentary, George Shea stated that the celebrity contestant experiment will likely not be repeated.
At the 2007 contest, the results were delayed to review whether defending champion Takeru Kobayashi had a "Roman method incident" (also known as a "reversal of fortune") in the final seconds of the competition. Such an incident results in the disqualification of the competitor under the rules of the IFOCE. The judges ruled in Kobayashi's favor; a disqualification would have given second place to Patrick Bertoletti. A similar incident occurred during Kobayashi's 2002 title defense when he consumed over fifty hot dogs in a victory over Eric "Badlands" Booker.
Kobayashi did not compete in the contest in 2010 or 2011 due to his refusal to sign an exclusive contract with the event's organizers. In 2010, Kobayashi was arrested after he walked up onto the stage after spectators began chanting "Let him eat". On July 4, 2011, he competed on the rooftop of a Manhattan bar, 230 Fifth, for the duration of the Coney Island contest. Two judges observed Kobayashi while the live broadcast of the event played next to him on a large television screen. Kobayashi finished 69 hot dogs, one more than the recognized world record and seven more than Chestnut's winning total in the 2011 contest. "I want to remain free to compete in the events that I want to compete in," Kobayashi said. "Today was a great success." Informed of the number, Major League Eating president George Shea snapped, “The champion of the world is crowned in Coney Island. Always has been, always will be. He put a tin crown on his head and called himself king.” However, the sports website Deadspin deemed Kobayashi's solo appearance "an improbably perfect "up yours" to the Nathan's hot dog eating contest."
The competition draws many spectators and worldwide press coverage. In 2007, an estimated 50,000 came out to witness the event.
In June 2004 a three-story-high "Hot Dog Eating Wall of Fame" was erected at the site of the annual contest. The wall lists past records going back to 1984 and has a digital clock, which counts down the minutes until the next contest.
From 1997 to 2006, a Japanese competitor held the belt in every year but 1999. In 2000, the first, second and third places were all taken by Japanese contestants.
Independence Day 2010 arrestKobayashi was arrested on July 4, 2010, during the Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest when he exited the police-barricaded spectator pen and entered the stage after the eating had ended. Although he was initially welcomed by co-host George Shea, security and New York City Police Department officers quickly ushered him offstage as he resisted vehemently, hanging on to the barricades and fences before being taken into custody. Though some witnesses report that Kobayashi was attempting to
congratulate Chestnut's win, co-host and Major League Eating President Richard Shea, however stated that "[Kobayashi] tried to jump on stage during the awards ceremony to disrupt it." He was charged with resisting arrest, trespassing and obstructing governmental administration. Kobayashi was not participating due to a contract dispute as he refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating that would have barred him from participating in events not sanctioned by the League. In his website, on the contract which he didn't sign said that he cannot eat fast on TV show and competition without their permission. He thought he was refused from all the events.
Tactics and training
Each contestant has his or her own eating method. Takeru Kobayashi pioneered the "Solomon Method" at his first competition in 2001. The method is to break each hot dog in half, eat the two halves at once, then eat the bun. The idea of eating the hot dogs and buns separately was first demonstrated by Kazutoyo Arai and is sometimes called "Tokyo Style" or "Japanesing". One hand is often used for dunking the buns, and the other is used for eating the hot dog.
"Dunking" is the most promenent method used today. Because buns absorb water, many contestants dunk their hot dogs (or just the buns) in water and squeeze them to make them easier to swallow, and slide down the throat more efficiently.
Other methods used include the "Carlene Pop," where the competitor jumps up and down while eating, to force the food down to the stomach. "Buns & Roses" is a similar trick, but the eater sways from side to side instead. "Juliet-ing" is a cheating method in which played simply throw the HDBs over their shoulders.
Contestants train and prepare for the event in different ways. Some fast, others prefer liquid-only diets before the event. Takeru Kobayashi meditates, drinks water and eats cabbage, then fasts before the event. Kevin Lipsitz formerly trained by having eating races with his dogs, but animal rights advocates convinced him to stop. Several contestants, such as Ed Jarvis, aim to be "hungry, but not too hungry" and have a light breakfast the morning of the event.