Tennis aficionados are still talking about last weekend’s epic Wimbledon finale, in which Rafael Nadal ousted Roger Federer. But fans of gastric gladiators will likewise remember this past weekend’s Kobayashi–Joey Chestnut battle. In all our years of following competitive eating, we’ve never seen a duel so simultaneously thrilling, unexpected, and horrific. Kobayashi, you may remember, was almost a scratch for the contest: he hadn’t competed since fall and suffers from a crippling “jawthritis.” But “The Tsunami” roared back at his American rival and tied him at the last moment with 59 dogs — nearly five more than his world record of 53 and 3/4 two years ago, despite having two minutes less to eat them in. A dog-off ensued, in which the two champions had to eat five more hot dogs each, and this time, Chestnut was first to the finish line. But, as with Federer at Wimbledon, Bird in the ‘87 finals, or Johnny Unitas in Super Bowl III, the former champion exited the stage with greater glory than if he had won. Consider July 4, 2008, the day that competitive eating ascended to the level of true sport.
Kobayashi and Chestnut: Two champions, and a sport, ennobled. Photo: Getty Images