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Talk about tough economic times: Even the annual hot dog eating contest in Coney Island isn’t immune to cutbacks.
This year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest will be two minutes shorter than in the recent past—a belated recognition, organizers say, to the distant past.
The change from a 12-minute contest to a 10-minute affair could drastically reduce competitors’ consumption.
“One never knows what’s possible, but I think the numbers would be reduced dramatically,” predicted event co-organizer George Shea.
In weighing the controversial change, Shea and his brother Richard claim to have unearthed evidence that would indicate that the event had once been 10 minutes long.
Scrawled on an Optical Society of the State of New York convention program from 1918 they claim are rules for the event, which dates back to 1916. The brothers also cite a New York Times article from 1986, which also sets the time at 10 minutes.
“We live in an era where people have lost faith in their institutions—FDA, FEMA, CIA and indeed, the office of the president. We have an obligation to maintain the integrity of this institution,” George Shea said.
“That’s why we took on this difficult choice,” he continued. “The easy choice would have been to ignore it. We dug down, did some soul searching, and decided to make the change.”
The move also means that the world’s record—66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes—set by wiry Californian Joey Chestnut—may be held by an American for the foreseeable future.
Shea said patriotism was never on his mind when he shaved two minutes from the event, held on the corner of Stilwell and Surf Avenues.
“I can guarantee you this was not done with the intention of making permanent an American record,” he stated.
In victory, Chestnut bested reigning six-time champ Japan’s Takeru Kobayashi.
Chestnut, 24, who came from behind in the final minutes of last year’s event to claim a $10,000 check and the coveted mustard yellow belt, has reportedly called the decision to cut down the time “ridiculous.”
Shea, the chairman of Major League Eating, said the question for Chestnut this year is whether he can “emotionally handle the burden” of bearing the weight of “the expectations of America.”
“I think Joey feels the pressure,” he noted.
Shea’s dark horse this year is 23-year-old Patrick Bertoletti, a brash Chicago native who gobbled 49 hot dogs and buns at last year’s spectacle. “Youth must be served,” he said. “This is the cycle of life.”
Shea said the 30-year-old Kobayashi has taken off the past six months—all in an effort to reclaim the belt.
“He is so focused,” Shea said.
Last year, the Japanese legend complained of jaw pain before the event. Still, he managed to eat 63 hot dogs and buns—but not before experiencing a rare “reversal of fortune.” As time expired, the Nagano native bravely attempted to stuff the barely digested mess back in his mouth.
There has been speculation that Nathan’s pressured the Shea brothers to cut down the time in order to spare viewers the sight of witnessing contestants regurgitate on national television.
But Shea said reversals are uncommon.
Moreover, he added, a bit of puke is simply the final artistic flourish of the Jackson Pollacks of the wiener-eating set.
“I view the contest, in all its elements, as physical poetry,’ he said. “Some may find it disquieting, but for me, it’s like changing a diaper or cleaning a mess in the kitchen. It doesn’t bother me.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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