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Hot-Dog-Eating Champ Struck With Jaw Arthritis Determined to Gulp On

When was the last time you remember seeing the belt, Kobayashi?Photo courtesy Major League Eating

The 2007 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest should have been one for the ages – the Ali-Foreman of competitive eating. After an uninterrupted six-year run, Japan’s Takeru Kobayashi was about to meet his match in American Joey Chestnut, who broke “The Tsunami”’s world record earlier this month in Phoenix. But as you may know, Kobayashi came down with jaw arthritis and can barely open his mouth — and, to make matters worse, the trophy the two nations are jousting for, the Mustard Yellow Belt, has been lost.

Don’t count the champion out yet, Major League Eating chairman George Shea tells us: “Kobayashi is seeing specialists every day in Tokyo, patriots who have offered their services for national pride. He is receiving constant treatment and intends to compete, although he remains day to day.” But what happened to the belt? “That is a tragic circumstance,” Shea says. “Kobayashi lent it to a museum to display, and it now cannot be found anywhere. It’s an icon of the eating world – no one knows how old it is or how much it is worth. We are rigging up a temporary replacement, but that’s just for this year.” Shea sounded even more upset about the belt going missing than the condition of the sport’s signature star. Perhaps that’s because Joey Chestnut’s recent feat, in which the burly Californian shattered the world record by six hot dogs, seems to have made a U.S. victory on the Fourth a fait accompli. Or did it? At least one eater thinks otherwise. Bucking the conventional wisdom, New York’s own Crazy Legs Conti says that, even with a locked jaw, Kobayashi is still the horse to bet on. “Takeru could be wearing a sling or a chin strap — he’s still going to be hard to beat. Every time Joey has thought he would beat Kobayashi, he’s lost in the last minute. It’s that 60 seconds where dreams are made.”

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