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Hot Dog Eating Contest Is July 4 Tradition

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Hot Dog Eating Contest Is July 4 Tradition

Hot Dog Eating Contest Is July 4 Tradition

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Enough about beer. Time for a hotdog - or how about 60? Today at Coney Island, a new world record. At the 91st annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, competitor Joey Chestnut wolfed down 66 hot dogs.

Unidentified Man #1: In first place, with 66 hot dogs and buns, Joey Chestnut.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #2: Kobayashi is down. Chestnut is the new champion, Jimmy.

COHEN: Chestnut broke the six-year winning streak of Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi. Last year, Kobayashi managed to put away 53 and three-quarters of a hot dog. Kobayashi's defeat may be due to a condition some are called jaw-thritis.

I spoke earlier with Jason Fagone about the physiology of speed eating. He wrote the book "Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream." And he joined us earlier from the studios of WHYY in Philadelphia. I asked Fagone what happened to Kobayashi's jaw.

Mr. JASON FAGONE (Author, "Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream."): He posted something on his blog on June 24th that suggested that he was suffering from arthritis. It just kind of make sense, because Kobayashi's jaw has always been one of the things that has distinguished him as an eater.

And when you watch him eat it up close, what's really incredible is what's happening in his face. In the back of his throat, he can kind of attack food and swallow it very quickly. And it also seems like he can almost relax his esophagus, so it becomes like an inner tube, and the food just kind of tumbles down very quickly.

COHEN: I remember watching at the competition last year, and it almost looks like he's almost got a dance going on. He's almost kind of, you know, rocking back and forth as the hotdogs come flying in. You - we would have think that he would have worked out something to prevent this kind of a jaw injury. No?

Mr. FAGONE: He does train very intensely. I mean, his manager told me one time that he has seen Kobayashi eat so much food in practice that he's had difficulty breathing, that his stomach had actually expanded to a point where it was pushing up against his diaphragm.

It seems like the injuries a direct result of his overtraining, that almost like a pitcher tearing a rotator cuff in the shoulder. It's just kind of a motion that is repeated and repeated and repeated, and it frays and frays and frays, and finally it just kind of shuts down.

COHEN: And what about you? I mean, you've spend a lot of time on what you call the gurgitation circuit. Do you consider speed eating an actual athletic sport?

Mr. FAGONE: If competitive eating is going to be a serious thing, and if there's going to be all this money tied up in it, and a live ESPN broadcast and the New York Times Japan bureau chief is going to call Kobayashi's manager when the news of Kobayashi's arthritic jaw comes out and verify that he will be, in fact, competing in the Coney Island Hotdog contest - if all of that is going to happen, then let's talk about competitive eating as a sport.

COHEN: I was looking back at the records for the Coney Island competition in years passed, and it used to be that 11 hotdogs could earn you first prize. Now he's got guys like Kobayashi eating more than 50 hotdogs. What's going on here? Are people's stomachs getting bigger?

Mr. FAGONE: Yes, they are - massively bigger. There's been a revolution in competitive eating capacity training. The secret is if you want to get very good, very quickly, you train your stomach to contain and stretch and hold huge quantities of food by chugging gallons of, usually, liquid. So you just chug it and you hold it there, and you do that daily. If you do that long enough, then your stomach will kind of bend to your will.

COHEN: Jason, I'm almost afraid to ask this, but when you're a competitive eater, and you put that much food in your stomach, what happens after that?

Mr. FAGONE: It either stays or it goes. And when it goes…

COHEN: Just like that Clash song.

Mr. FAGONE: Yeah. It can go quietly or it can go violently. Eaters are really -are increasingly reluctant to talk about this because they feel it's a very quick way to de-legitimize what they do as any kind of credible sport.

COHEN: And really gross people out.

Mr. FAGONE: And gross people out.

COHEN: Jason Fagone is author of the book "Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream." You can read his poem on the dangers of speed eating at Slate.com. Thanks so much for joining us, Jason.

Mr. FAGONE: Thank you, Alex.

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