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The eyes of the world were on Coney Island on Thursday for the annual gorge Olympics known as the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, where Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, the LeBron James of the competitive eating world, won for the seventh consecutive year — and shattered a world record while he was at it — by consuming 69 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes.
In the women’s division of the sport (where “sport” is defined as any competitive activity deemed worthy of coverage on ESPN), Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas just narrowly eked out a victory by gobbling up 36 three-quarter-length hotdogs and buns in the same amount of time. Thomas, who weighs in at just 100 pounds, has won the women’s contest every one of its three years in existence.
New to the sport? Here are five things you need to know about competitive eating to get you up to speed.
1. The Federation
What began as informal, messy spectacles at county fairs has slowly turned into a regulated sport with its own board. The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) was founded in 1997 to unite the many eating competitions around the world. IFOCE is responsible for setting the standard competitive food-eating criteria — i.e. number of items eaten in a set amount of times. It enforces the rule that competitors must be at least 18 years old.
2. The Rules
The rules for eating contests are basic: The food is weighed (in the case of a bulk item like lasagna) or cut into even pieces (as in Nathan’s hotdogs). Once the buzzer goes off, competitors can eat the food in any way they choose — either tearing it up into smaller pieces or swallowing it whole. They are permitted to use liquid, usually water, to help it go down. A hotdog and bun can be eaten together, or separately — i.e., just the tubesteak first then just the bread. When time is called, if there is still food in the contestants’ mouths, it counts, so long as they are physically able to swallow it.
3. The Vomit
Yes, in this kind of high-stakes, extreme-sport setting, human physiology is regularly pushed to its outermost limits, and contestants are occasionally known to vomit — the equivalent of that skier taking that nasty tumble in the opening to ABC’s Wide World of Sports. IFOCE refers to such a tragedy as “a Roman incident,” and anyone unlucky to suffer one is instantly disqualified if the regurgitated material touches their plate or table. Once time is called, contestants can void the food any way they like.
4. The Training
Every contestant has their own training regimen, but champion Chestnut’s routine seems to be the magic bullet to consuming inhuman amounts of food in relatively short periods of time. The San Jose, Calif., native binge eats about once per week, swallowing mass quantities of whatever food is the guest of honor at the next contest. Beyond hotdogs, that can mean burgers, chicken wings, oysters, key lime pie and cheesecake. Chestnut also chugs milk by the gallon-load in a single sitting, which helps stretch his stomach. In the days leading up to the big meet, he will stop eating solid food entirely and limit his diet to protein supplements. He likes to drop pounds and enter the contest starving, so that psychologically, “I can easily imagine an enormous amount of food inside me,” he says.
5. The Aftermath
Chestnut is 6-foot-1 and weighs in around 220 pounds, hardly what you’d call obese or even overweight. He works hard to keep his weight down by monitoring his caloric intake when he isn’t training and by doing cardio. Even so, doctors not surprisingly say competitive eating is extremely dangerous and potentially fatal. Binge eating can create perforations in the lining of the stomach, particularly if they have undiagnosed ulcers.The huge amounts of water they swallow to help lubricate the food as it travels down the esophagus can result in water intoxication, a deadly syndrome that results in the dilution of electrolytes in the bloodstream. Vomiting can cause asphyxiation. Food can get lodged in the lungs and eventually cause pneumonia. With all that said, there’s only one known case of competitive-eating-related injury in the medical literature — a jaw fracture.
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