Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Noooooooo Kobayashi! Why?

Takeru Kobayashi, a six-time winner of Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, will not compete in this year’s iconic event at Coney Island. Kobayashi, perhaps the most recognizable figure in the world of competitive eating, is currently is ranked No. 3 in the world by Major League Eating.

The slender 32-year-old from Japan too full to compete? Has he suffered another jaw injury? Nope. It’s a contractual dispute between him and MLE, according to the league. During his six consecutive Nathan’s wins from 2001-06, Kobayashi seemed unbeatable until the coveted Mustard Belt was brought back to the U.S. in 2007 by California resident Joey Chestnut. Since then, Kobayashi has been defeated a number of times, and not just in the league’s premier event. This leads some eaters in the league to speculate that he may want to retire from competitive eating on a relatively high note, rather than gradually slide out of memory

Pro eaters sign contracts agreeing that they’ll participate in only MLE-sanctioned events; these contracts don’t guarantee pay for eaters, who instead earn money from league-approved endorsements and prize earnings. Richard Shea, the organization’s president, issued a statement Monday indicating that negotiations with the 160-pound pro eater had reached an impasse, but offered no other details. Competition on the eating circuit has increased dramatically in the past few years, and even top-ranked Chestnut (who has won Nathan’s the past three years) can be beaten. In the past year, No. 2-ranked Bob Shoudt of Philadelphia has out-eaten Chestnut in ribs, grits, and chili spaghetti championships. Either way it will be amazing to watch.

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