KOBAYASHI GANBATTE! The Nathan's Famous Wall of Fame before the commencement of today's hot-dog-eating contest. Slice was on hand as records were broken and history made, as Kobayashi "The Tsunami" Takeru broke his 2002 record of 50.5 hot dogs with 53.5. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas kicked major ass, downing 32.
Not only would the founding fathers never have imagined pizza, they definitely would not have thought that, 228 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, we, their progeny, would be gorging ourselves with hot dogs on the nation's birthday. If they're turning in their graves, so be it. We're free to get up to this kind of nonsense because of the very struggle they so bravely started back when white wigs were the fashion of the day.
The struggle Slice faced itself with today, however, was decidedly less important. We were fighting tooth and nail to get a good view of the gustatory gladiators gutting it out in the annual Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest. As we joined the crowd and fought for a view, George Shea, cofounder of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, announced the contestants: Godfrey Bertelsen (Eng.), Eric "Badlands" Booker (U.S.), Dale Boone (U.S.), "Crazy Legs" Conti (U.S.), Allen Shredder Goldstein (U.S.), Hungry Charles Hardy (U.S), Simon Hopewell (NZ), Ed Cookie Jarvis (U.S.), Kobayashi "The Tsunami" Takeru (Jpn.), Ron Koch (U.S.), Jammin Joe LaRue (U.S.), Rich The Locust LeFevre (U.S.), Carlene LeFevre (U.S.), Don Moses Lerman (U.S.), Jim Buffalo Reeves (U.S.), Shirota "Gutzilla" Nobuyuki (Jpn.), Bill El Wingador Simmons (U.S.), Marcus Steinhoff (Ger.), Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas (U.S.), and Oleg Zhornitskiy (U.S.).
The most dramatic moment of the introduction came when Mr. Kobayashi appeared, with acolytes throwing pink carnations to the wind. Greatness had stepped onto the dais.
This was Slice's first trip to the event, and we were amazed at how professional the proceedings were. From the "Wall of Fame," a gigantic printed-nylon backdrop stretched across Nathan's facade, to the individualized intro music for each athletereminiscent of baseball players' at-bat theme songs (our favorite was "Hungry" Charles Hardy's choice of Biggie Smalls's "Hypnotize"). The contest was part carnival sideshow, part professional sporting event, and all-American.
We didn't get a good view, but simply being present was exciting enough as we heard Mr. Shea call the event that was happening about thirty yards away. As was expected, Kobayashi won, breaking the world record he set in 2002 (50.5 dogs) by eating 53.5 (gojusan to hanbun in Japanese). [In the image at left, you can barely make out Mr. Shirota (the big guy pumping his fist) and Mr. Kobayashi (in the ball cap to the right of the camera).]
Turning in a stunning performance in the Nathan's contest was "The Black Widow." She beat her previous record of 26.5 hot dogs (set in May's Philadelphia qualifying round) by 5.5 dogs for a total of 32. That was a new female record (unfortunately Nathan's insists on gender specificity), but more important, it was a NEW AMERICAN RECORD. The diminutive Ms. Thomas (5'3" and 100lbs.) ate more dogs than did Mr. Jarvis (419 lbs.) or Mr. Booker (395lbs.). We think Ms. Thomas will eventually bring the Mustard Belt back to the States. With an increase of 5 dogs in just months and an impressive string of records in several food categories (cheesecake, oysters, turducken), she's well on her way to Kobayashi-level eating.
We realize this has almost nothing to do with pizza (save for the fact that several of these athletes have competed in pizza-eating contests), but this was simply too amazing an event to go unnoted in the pages of Slice. We now return you to our regularly scheduled content.
[Kobayashi ganbatte = "Go for it, Kobayashi!"]