It’s Enough To Make You Sick To Your Stomach

I still salivate whenever I land at Newark Airport, and that’s not merely because it means I’m mere minutes from my beloved family when I’m there.  One of the first sights I see when I’m headed to baggage claim is the Nathan’s Famous logo.  Like so many native New Yorkers, I have a long history with those perfectly seasoned and grilled hot dogs, though not as much as those who head to its original Coney Island location every Fourth of July.  Even cumulatively.

Years ago, I was as addicted to the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest which the chain has sponsored for more than a century, and which ESPN opportunistically turned into holiday appointment television when it picked up the rights to telecast it in 2003.  It reached its peak popularity capitalizing on a true rivalry that emerged between two of the bigger names in Major League Eating, America’s Joey Chestnut and Japan’s Takeru Kobayashi.  USA TODAY’s Joe Rivera fondly recalls those glory days:

When Kobayashi burst onto the American competitive eating scene in the early 2000s, the landscape for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest was changed dramatically. Kobayashi would go on to win six consecutive Mustard Belts between 2001 and 2006 (and even starred in a “This is SportsCenter” commercial). Kobayashi was the whole dog and bun show.

But then what happened?

In 2010, Kobayashi and Major League Eating – which sanctions the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest – entered a contract dispute. MLE wanted to sign Kobayashi to an exclusive deal, which didn’t sit well with him.

Kobayashi last competed in the July Fourth hot dog eating contest in 2009, when he was again defeated by nemesis Joey Chestnut: Kobayashi finished in second with 64½ hot dogs to Chestnut’s 68.

Since then, Chestnut pretty much has had this world as his oyster, or at least his fried clams.  But as CBS SPORTS’ Jesse Zanger reported this morning, now he too has moved on from this competition:

For the first time in years, the men’s competition is wide open, with Joey Chestnut not competing. The 16-time reigning champion is not appearing this year because of his partnership with a rival company that makes plant-based hot dogs. Chestnut holds the all-time record which he set in 2021 by eating 76 hot dogs and buns. 

So much like is the case of late in other sports (and yes, it takes as much true athletic prowess to compete in this field as tennis, golf or any Olympic-sanctioned individual competition), this year the door is open for new legends to emerge.  One in particular seems particularly ready according to Zanger:

In the women’s division, all eyes are on MikI Sudo, the top-ranked female eater in the world, according to Major League Eating. Sudo, 38, is a nine-time champion, and is hoping to earn her 10th victory Thursday. She’s won every year since 2014 except 2021 – she sat that year out due to pregnancy. Her personal best is 48.5 hot dogs and buns. 

She said Wednesday she was watching out for one competitor in particular. 

“Mayoi Ebihara is going to be pushing me. From what she says, she’s going to be doing 50,” Sudo said. “Not an easy number to stumble across.” 

Ebihara, 28, is from Tokyo. It’s her third time appearing in the competition. Her previous best was 33.5 hot dogs. She was last year’s runner up. 

Sure sounds like a familiar recipe.  And ESPN is apparently all in to try and turn Sudo into a female Chestnut; as PENNLIVE’s Paul Vigna reported, (t)he women’s competition starts at 10:45 a.m. EDT on ESPN3 with the “Miki Sudo Camera” spotlighting the 2023 women’s champion beginning at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN3.  And Vigna adds that the search for the male heir is also on: A dedicated camera will be trained on professional eater Geoffrey Esper beginning at 12:30 on ESPN3.

Maybe Esper will prove to be compelling and worthy.  Maybe Ebihara won’t completely borrow Kobayashi’s playbook.

Personally, while I still love the aroma of a Nathan’s dog, my stomach has long since moved past the ability to hold down more than one or two without barfing.  And, honestly, I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something like what these lovebirds are shielding themselves from the midday Brooklyn sun with.  So at least this year I’ll only be seeking highlights.

Now, if they ever get around to a competition about Nathan’s fries, especially when drizzled with ketchup and having that cute little two-pronged fork to aid in consumption, save me a spot at that table.

Courage…

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