It’s a dog day of summer for Takeru Kobayashi.
Kobayashi, best known for winning the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest six years in a row and getting arrested in 2010 after a scuffle at the Coney Island event, will still compete in Monday’s competition—but via satellite, he told Time Out New York.
The right to consume high-sodium meat never felt so controversial until Kobayashi came along. In 2010, he was barred from competing in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest because he refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating (MLE). That year, he attended the Nathan’s event and rushed the stage as crowds chanted, “Let him eat!” Kobayashi, also known as “The Tsunami,” was arrested.
Today, Kobayashi is the most recognizable gut of competitive eating—and not just because he’s obliterated world records by crushing mammoth amounts of food. The Tsunami, due to his predicament, has inspired a small movement against contracts that restrict professional eaters from competing with free will.
The Nathan’s Contest, which occurs annually on the 4th of July in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, has popularized the sport of gluttony on an international scale. The contest is broadcast live on ESPN.
In order to compete, according to Kobayashi, a gustatory athlete must sign a yearlong MLE contract that prevents the signer from competing in other unsanctioned contests. Kobayashi refused to sign because he thought it was unfair. By doing so, “I was able to participate in New York Fashion Week and walk down the runway,” he said. “I participated in a pizza contest in Canada. One of the things that the association bans is just appearing in public with a hot dog, and so I decided to appear in public with a hot dog.”
From 2001 to 2006, Kobayashi ate his way to a world record; he was the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating champion for an unprecedented six years in a row. The years following, he would come in second place. In 2009, the last year he competed, he ate 64.5 hot dogs and buns (HDBs) in ten minutes; the winner, Joey Chestnut, digested 68.
The surprisingly lithe Kobayashi will continue his 4th of July tradition by eating hot dogs at 230 Fifth, a Manhattan rooftop bar. He hopes others will join him while he’s gorging on hot dogs next to a live broadcast of the Nathan’s event.
“I don’t see it only as an eating competition,” Kobayashi told Time Out. “I think of it as an exhibition.”
Turns out, he’s not just an athlete. He’s an artist.