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Friday, July 4, 2003
Updated: July 8, 2:16 PM ET
Kobayashi's dominance a lot to swallow

By Darren Rovell
Page 2

CONEY ISLAND, N.Y. -- Three minutes into the Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest, Japanese speed-eater Takeru Kobayashi had scarfed down 17 hot dogs and buns. There were nine minutes remaining, but Kobayashi had already bested the personal highs of more than half of the competitors.

Takeru Kobayashi
The numbers don't lie, even though they're nearly impossible to believe.
For the third consecutive year, the event was no contest as Kobayashi dominated. Although he did finish six hot dogs and buns short of the record he set last year, Kobayashi's 44½ dogs were 14 better than runner-up Ed "Cookie" Jarvis.

Kobayashi's unmatched success and overwhelming margin of victory have caused some to speculate -- as others have murmured about four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong -- that the only explanation is the feasting phenom has an unfair advantage.

Kobayashi has told other competitive eaters that he uses aloe vera to coat his stomach, but after the competition, he once again denied he uses any sort of drugs to get an advantage.

Still, you can't blame the rest of the field for feeling like they're competing against an unnatural eating machine -- one that comes in an unbelievably rail-thin 145-pound package.

In 2001, David O'Karma ate 17 hot dogs in the first half of the contest, but when he heard that Kobayashi had already finished 27, he put down his franks and just watched.

"Ever since that day, I've been trying to figure out how he does it," said O'Karma, a 47-year-old painting contractor from Akron, Ohio, who owns the world doughnut eating title (30 donuts in 5:28). "I've researched and researched on the Internet, but I still can't understand it. Kobayashi gets stronger and stronger as he goes."

Takeru Kobayashi
You can't blame this man for feeling stuffed. He had a big lunch.
O'Karma, who retired from competitive eating two weeks ago, says he can't prove it, but he thinks there is a chance Kobayashi has an artificial advantage. O'Karma says Kobayashi has a scar on his back.

"Maybe he had some of his intestines removed," O'Karma speculated. "I mean, I was at least in the 95th percentile on the competitive eating landscape ... well, what's Kobayashi then? He's not even on the chart."

"There have been rumors on the circuit that he was surgically altered by the Japanese government," added "Crazy Legs" Conti, a wild-card entry in the contest who finished with 15 hot dogs and buns. "I just think he's the greatest athlete of all-time."

The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) doesn't do any sort of drug testing or have contestants certify that they haven't altered their bodies in any way.

"We haven't seen any evidence or heard any reports of drug abuse," said Rich Shea, president of the IFOCE, which sanctions the Nathan's contest every year. "If we heard anything from the eaters or the audience, we would obviously launch the proper investigation, and if need be, we will institute a drug policy."

Takeru Kobayashi and Eric Booker
Eric Booker, left, and the rest of the competitors got gobbled up by Takeru Kobayashi.
Dr. Nidhir Sheth, a gastroenterologist with the Gastroenterology Consultants of South Jersey, says the ideal surgery for a competitive eater would be a bypass surgery that would allow food to go into the small intestines instead of the stomach. The small intestines do not send signals to the brain, thus the feeling of being full wouldn't occur.

There are also drugs that would provide an edge. Reglan, which causes the digestive system to work faster, is usually given to patients with heartburn, but it could work to an eater's advantage.

Stomach relaxants like hyoscyamine sulfate would keep the stomach from getting spasms or cramps, Sheth said. Better yet, testing for the relaxant would be a challenge because it does not flow through the bloodstream.

Eric Booker, who finished third with 29 hot dogs and buns, said he doesn't suspect any foul play with the reigning hot dog eating champion.

"He told me about the aloe vera, but I don't think he does anything illegal," Booker said. "If he did cheat, it would bring such disgrace to his country that it wouldn't be worth it."

But some think testing might not be on the horizon.

"We don't need to test yet," said "Hungry" Charles Hardy, who ate 17 hot dogs and buns. "But when this becomes an Olympic sport, then we're going to have to do it."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.