Thursday, July 4, 2002 Updated: July 5, 6:00 PM ET
Accusations hurled at hot dog contest
By Darren Rovell ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- On Thursday, competitive eating made a lot of progress in proving that it is indeed a sport. Like the NFL, NHL and NBA, it apparently needs instant replay.
Takeru Kobayashi, center, won the title with 50½ hot dogs, while Eric Booker, right, finished second with 26.
Japanese professional speed-eater Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi destroyed the competition for the second consecutive year at the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July international hot dog eating contest, scarfing down 50½ hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes.
The 24-year-old Kobayashi, who weighed 113 pounds before the contest and almost 120 pounds after, bettered his 2001 world-record performance by half a hot dog despite having to fight off the 100-degree heat. He also covered the spread of Internet gamblers, who favored him to win by 20 hot dogs.
But in the final seconds, with many of the 20 competitors already satisfied with their effort, Kobayashi's body heaved as his cheeks ballooned with remnants. Since visible regurgitation during competition means a disqualification, many in the crowd cried foul and waited for the title to be given to Eric "Badlands" Booker, who finished second with 26 hot dogs.
Seconds after the contestants were told to put down their hot dogs, Kobayashi's individual judge, Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Post, and Mike Devito, the commissioner of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (which sanctioned the contest), ruled that the victory was official.
"It's the Raiders-Patriots game all over again," joked Rich Shea, president of the IFOCE.
But instant replay would not overturn the fumble, as it did during the AFC divisional playoffs.
Kobayashi captured the coveted Mustard Yellow Belt for the second consecutive year.
"If you suffer a roman-method incident (the IFOCE's term for regurgitating) during the contest, it's an immediate DQ," said Rich's brother George, the chairman of the federation, which would later review the tapes as a formality. "My understanding is this not only happened after the contest, but that none of the hot dogs and buns actually hit the table or the floor."
Footage captured by ESPN confirms that some hot dog slush did spill through Kobayashi's fingers and pieces of liquid bun spouted out of his nose, but footage shows time had already expired.
"I feel good I got over the 50 mark, even by a half," said Kobayashi, through an interpreter. Others weren't as satisfied.
"He should be disqualified, period," said "Hungry" Charles Hardy, a 5-foot-11, 360-pound New York City corrections officer who had 20 hot dogs. "Eric should have that belt. I mean, I had people in Atlanta call me on my cell phone saying they saw it on TV." While eating a 15-foot sushi roll during the Glutton Bowl on Fox in February, Hardy was disqualified for regurgitating.
"I was standing right next to him, but I was too focused on my game," said Booker, a 6-foot-5, 400-pound New York City transit conductor. "I didn't want to suffer the mistakes I had last year, where I was looking around to see what everyone was doing. It was just me and the dogs."
Eating only 26 hot dogs was a somewhat disappointing effort for Booker, who set a new U.S. record of 28 on June 2. Three hours before the competition, Booker boasted that he hoped to "eat one for every state in the union." After seeing Kobayashi use his "Solomon" method -- where he splits the hot dog in half and puts both pieces in his mouth at the same time -- Booker employed a new method this year: "The Double Japanese" (putting two hot dogs in his mouth at one time, then dipping two buns in water and putting them in his mouth at the same time).
Controversy and the international hot dog eating contest actually go hand-and-hand.
Last year, there was another controversy surrounding Kobayashi.
"These (American) guys last year were yelling and screaming drugs, drugs, drugs," said Rich Shea, who noted that contestants accused Kobayashi of using muscle relaxers. "I was with him all morning, and I've seen no evidence of it. As the international federation, it would be our duty to bring drug testing into this sport, but there's just no evidence."
In 1997, when the first of three Japanese champions came on the scene at Coney Island, Shea said competitors complained he had two stomachs. "No one has two stomachs," Shea said. "We're all born with the same stomach."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.