Takeru Kobayashi, one of the greatest eaters in the history of the world and a six-time Nathan’s hot dog-eating champion, has stunned the world by dropping out of the July 4 competition, giving rival Joey Chestnut, who has beaten him three years in a row, a clear shot to a dynasty.
The International Federation of Competitive Eating confirmed that Kobayashi and the IFOCE were “at an impasse” in contract negotiations to bring Kobayashi, who earns thousands for each competition, to the sport’s flagship event at the historic Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand on Stillwell Avenue.
IFOCE Executive Director George Shea didn’t even try to paper over the controversy, using the past tense as he moved on to his next bite.
“Kobayashi was a great champion in his day, but we have come to an impasse,” Shea said. “We remain open to a negotiation, but we are not optimistic.”
As an aside, Shea pointed out that Chestnut has beaten Kobayashi three years in a row, most recently with his 68 hot dogs and bun triumph in last year’s 10-minute contest, considered to be the greatest achievement in eating history.
And Kobayashi lost to Chestnut in a wonton-eating contest — a wonton-eating contest! — last month in Singapore.
“I don’t know the final score, but it was convincing,” Shea said. “Perhaps that’s what’s motivating this contract squabble.”
A contest without Kobayashi — who came onto the scene with a stunning 50 HDB victory in 2001 when the record was a mere 25 HDBs — is by no means a cakewalk for Chestnut, who has been beaten three times this year by number two-ranked eater Bob “The Veggie Phenom” Shoudt.
Though Shoudt is a vegetarian when he’s not on the competitive-eating circuit, he is a true giant of the man-eat-dog world of eating. Shoudt has beaten Chestnut at ribs, grits and chili spaghetti this year, three diverse and challenging disciplines.
But nothing is harder than the July 4 contest at Coney Island, which features mounds of beef dogs, crusty buns, heat, humidity and the eyes of the world.
Chestnut has repeatedly proven up to the task, setting new world records three times — and once even beating Kobayashi in a five-dog overtime round after the two tied in regulation in 2008.
Shoudt’s personal best is 41-3/4 HDBs last year.
When Shea was asked how he’d remember Kobayashi, he paused, as if unprepared for the question at this point in time.
“I’ll always remember him as the young boy who jumped off the bus in 2001 and essentially reset the bar on competitive eating forever,” Shea said. “He changed the sport and he will go down in people’s minds as one of the world’s greatest athletes. Kobayashi ushered in the modern era, like a Tiger Woods, if you will.”