Demise of a Hot Dog Duel: Kobayashi Retires

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One thing’s for certain: Takeru Kobayashi retired hungry.

The six-time hot dog eating champ has finally thrown in his ketchup and mustard-stained towel. The official Major League Eating (MLE) site announced on June 28 that Kobayashi is not scheduled to compete in the 2010 Nathan’s July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest. (Check out pictures of Kobayashi doing what he did best.)

Kobayashi, the sole non-American competitor among MLE’s top 20 rankings, revolutionized competitive eating in 2001 when he doubled the record of hot dogs eaten (read: shoved haphazardly down throat). Kobayashi won the first place title every year from 2001 to 2006, until American Joey Chestnut beat him in 2007. Chestnut won again in 2008 and 2009. And this year, Chestnut—who beat Kobayashi last month in a wonton eating contest in Singapore—will be competing for his fourth consecutive win.

“Kobayashi will always be remembered as a great eater,” says George Shea, chairman of MLE. “But he isn’t the greatest eater any more. Joey Chestnut is, without question, the world’s greatest eater.”

Despite the absence of his nemesis from Japan, Shea says this Sunday’s competition could still be heartburn-inducing for Chestnut. “Joey never saw the competition only as Kobayashi,” he says, pointing out that the champ faces three other world-class eaters.

One of which is 43 year old Bob Shoudt of Philadelphia, who speculates that Kobayashi left the competition in fear of coming in third place for the first time, behind himself in first and Chestnut in second.

And as for this weekend? “I know Joey personally,” says Shoudt. “I know he’s going to be nervous for this contest and looking over his shoulder. Hopefully I come around the other side.” Shoudt names Chestnut’s other main competition as Chicago’s Patrick Bertoletti, and Tim Janus of New York.

So regardless, it looks like the fledgling sport of competitive eating has become as American as eating 279 slices of apple pie.

— By Ella Quittner