Chestnut downed 62 hot dogs in ten minutes before more than 40,000 “sports” fans at the famous Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York and before more than 1.5 million TV viewers on ESPN.
Despite the glory and jubilation of Chestnut winning the championship Mustard Belt, there is some debate as to whether competitive eating should be classified as a sport, or if it should even be allowed because of health concerns.
“Knowing how many people don’t have adequate nutrition, and how many people abuse food and overeat constantly, seeing competitive eating celebrated on TV disturbs me,” said nutritionist Milton Stokes in an interview with WebMD. Competitive eating can “send a message to spectators that going hog wild with food is not a big deal,” he added.
Medical doctors also worry that competitive eating can be dangerous to one’s health. For example, binge eating could cause stomach perforations in people with undiagnosed ulcers, says Shanthi Sitaraman, a gastroenterologist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
The president of Major League Eating, Rich Shea, can’t stomach any debate over the gastronomical events.
“Competitive eating is a fast-growing sport and entertainment product. We do just shy of 100 events a year around the world, primarily in the United States, but we’re also going overseas,” he said in an interview.
“At the Fourth of July contest itself, which is our biggest day, our Superbowl, we get 40,000 fans, we’ll have a blimp and an ESPN broadcast with just shy of two million households tuning in,” Shea was quoted in a CNBC story.
Monday was the 96th annual hot dog speed-eating contest. The goal is simple: eat the most hot dogs and accompanying buns in ten minutes.
Patrick Bertoletti of Chicago, Ill., nearly kept pace with Chestnut early on, but finished second with 53 hot dogs. And hometown eater Timothy “Eater X” Janus, last year’s runner-up, was third after downing 43 hotdogs.
Former six-time champ Takeru Kobayashi, instead of crashing the stage the way he did last year, ate simultaneously at a midtown bar, ESPN reported. Kobayashi claims he scarfed down 69 dogs, according to news reports. The mark, if recognized, would beat Chestnut’s world record of 68 set in 2009. Kobayashi was ineligible to compete because he won’t sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating.
“It wasn’t a competition,” Chestnut said. “It was him just eating. I’ve done 71 in practice by myself. It’s his choice not to be here. He could have signed the same contract he signed three years [ago]. It’s sad that he thinks he’s Kobe Bryant. This is competitive eating. It’s supposed to be fun.”
Chestnut’s victory earned him $10,000. He led from the beginning and had ingested 38 hotdogs in the first five minutes. Bertoletti, the second-ranked competitive eater in the world, had only trailed by two hotdogs at that point.
“That guy was not giving up,” Chestnut said. “He was making a furious mess too. I kept on getting hit by red debris. Next year I might get pushed in harder.”
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas won the women’s contest, which was held separately for the first time this year. Thomas, who resides in Alexandria, Va., stuffed down 40 hotdogs.
“I’m thirsty, but I’m happy,” she said. “This year they have a women’s division so I have a champion’s belt. But I competed with the men and I didn’t have a chance to get a belt. Now I have a chance to get a pink belt so I’m very happy about that.”