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The diminutive Takeru Kobayashi: King of the dogs
Takeru Kobayashi is nicknamed "The Tsunami," which is very fitting considering how he took the competitive eating world by storm at the 86th annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York.
The diminutive Japanese human vacuum, who stands only 5-8 and weighs just 165 pounds, according to his official website (although he's weighed-in at as little as 128 pounds and as much as 192 pounds), came into the contest a relative unknown to those who weren't avid competitive eating fans.
That quickly changed, as Kobayashi wolfed down a record 50 hot dogs and buns that Fourth of July in 2001, doubling the previous record held by Kazutoyo "The Rabbit" Arai, and beating Eric "Badlands" Booker's second-place total of 26 hot dogs and buns handily.
Booker would increase his intake the next year by three hot dogs and buns to devour 29 at the 2002 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, but that would only garner him third place behind Ed "Cookie" Jarvis, who set an American record with 30 1/2 hot dogs and buns eaten. Both, however, would fall far short of Kobayashi's total of 44 1/2 hot dogs and buns, which allowed him to defend his title.
Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas would top Jarvis with her amazing total of 32 hot dogs and buns downed, setting a U.S. women's record at the 2004 event, but she was outdone by Japan's Nobuyuki, who gobbled up 38 hot dogs and buns, only to see Takeru once again lap the field by setting a new world record with 53 1/2 hot dogs and buns consumed.
That contest was the first broadcast live by ESPN, which has retained the broadcasting rights ever since, and increased the popularity of the event immensely, with many throughout the nation marveling at the gastronomical feats of these tiny competitive eaters.
The following year would foreshadow the end of Kobayashi's dominance, as Joey "Jaws" Chestnut placed third behind Takeru and Sonya, feasting on 32 hot dogs and buns to signal his entrance into the world of elite competitive eaters. Kobayashi would still retain his title, though, eating 49 hot dogs and buns to Thomas' 37.
In what would be the most competitive contest in quite some time, Chestnut nearly took Kobayashi down during the 2006 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, chowing down on 52 hot dogs and buns on the sunny Fourth of July. However, Takeru wasn't yet ready to give up his throne, and ate an astounding world record 54 hot dogs and buns that day.
In 2007, Chestnut finally got the better of his rival, outpacing Kobayashi and finding a way to slam down a new world record 66 hot dogs and buns, just coming ahead of Takeru's 63 to take the crown from the small Japanese eater, who he's beaten every year since except 2010, when Kobayashi was not allowed to participate at the event due to conflicts with the IFOCE.
There's no doubt Takeru will be back on the scene, though, as he has been a champion competitive eater long before he ever won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, winning numerous contests and setting records for such foods as hot dogs, hamburgers, jiaozi dumplings, roasted pork buns, bratwurst sausages, lobster, pizza, tacos, and even cow brains.
In fact, the only reason he even came to America to take part in the event in 2001 was because he felt there were no more real challenges for him in his native Japan at the time, where he was already a legend for his eating acumen.
Growing up a dedicated athlete who was in to running and weight-training, Takeru has devoted his training for more than a decade to preparing his body for the competitive eating contests he takes part in, and while I'm hesitant to call it a "sport" there's no question these guys train pretty hard to be the best at what they do.
Frankly, watching someone eat so much can be a little sickening to behold, but you have to admire someone who is so small being able to stuff so much into their body.
Whether competitive eating is just a fad or not will be determined by how long it retains its popularity. Kobayashi has done all he could trying to make sure that doesn't happen, but as with anything as unusual as this "sport" it may just fade away over time.
What won't fade away is the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, which will be celebrating its 96th year of existence this coming July 4, 2011. There are few things more tried and true than the event, and while he hasn't won it in four years, Kobayashi, with six titles under his belt, is still King of the Dogs.
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All stats and information taken from personal notes and verified at Major League Eating and Yahoo! Sports.
Read more by Daniel Barber aka Hotnuke at TFS Sports.
*Daniel Barber has rooted for all Miami teams since he was a child or since their inception having been born right above Miami.
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