“59.5*”: Chestnut’s ‘record’ is tainted by modern air conditioning

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It doesn’t take anything away from world-record-holding eater Joey Chestnut to say that his 59-1/2 hot dog and bun achievement last week is a joke.

Like Bob Beamon’s wind-aided 1968 Olympic long jump in the thin air of Mexico City, Barry Bonds “clear”- and “cream”-aided 73 homer season in 2001, or Roger Maris’s eight-extra-game home-run season in 1961, Chestnut’s 59-1/2 HDB record should have an asterisk — at least until he repeats the “achievement” under actual game conditions.

Without air conditioning, I mean.

Certainly Chestnut is one of history’s greatest eaters. But the full impact of what he did last Saturday in an air-conditioned shopping mall outside of Tempe, Arizona simply can’t be known until he does it again.

In the heat of an actual competition.

After all, last year at Coney Island, with the temperatures and humidity both well above 80, Chestnut finished 1-3/4 dogs behind his nemesis, Takeru Kobayashi, who ate 53-3/4 and captured his sixth consecutive Mustard Yellow International Belt, the world-renowned symbol of gustatory greatness.

Chestnut dodged my calls about whether the air conditioning was responsible for his sudden ability to eat 59-1/2 HDBs, so this reporter — humbly speaking, the foremost competitive eating writer in the nation (no, you could look it up … on Wikipedia!) — did the next best thing: I conducted a completely scientific experiment at an indoor Nathan’s stand. With the air conditioning blowing at full bore, I was able to down two HDBs in just one minute (such a pace, if sustained over 12 minutes, would have won me the Mustard Yellow Belt only a decade ago, by the way).

Then I bought two more dogs and took them outside, into the heat and mugginess of a normal New York summer day.

I struggled to get even one of the dogs down my quivering gullet. My face broke out in a sweat (that’s real garlic satisfaction in there, my friends) and I got woozy from the heat.

The result of my experiment was clear: Air conditioning is to competitive eating what steroids are to baseball or, more accurately, the power nail driver is to Amish barn-raising.

Naturally, George Shea, the chairman of the International Federation of Competitive Eating, thought this columnist was out of line.

“First of all, your metaphor is absurd,” Shea said. “If anything, air conditioning is more like Lasix, the legal drug that thoroughbred trainers sometimes use.

“But your larger point is even more misguided,” Shea added. “Yes, there is no question that air conditioning helps competitive eaters, but the difference between Chestnut’s 59-1/2 and Kobayashi’s 53-3/4 is so vast as to trump any so-called ‘advantage’ that Chestnut got from the indoor contest.”

Shea admitted he’s started to hear the drumbeat for an asterisk — at least until Chestnut beats Kobayashi fair and sweaty on July 4 — but is resisting the call.

“I don’t want to question your integrity, but your integrity is questionab­le,” Shea said. “This will all be settled on July 4. And by the way, did I tell you I’m bringing in a giant from India this year?”

Shea was apparently talking about P. Theyagarjan, the 7’8” chicken tika masala–eating champion of the world, who will be making his debut on July 4.

And he says my integrity is questionable!

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at
Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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