The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is certainly "sports," though you should know that our definition of the term is perhaps a bit looser than it is for most. Still, professional eating isn't on the duck marathon or prancing llama end of the spectrum, really. There is a circuit of qualifying events that competitors must conquer before they can assume the sport's biggest stage on July 4 in Coney Island, where they will put their bodies through tremendous physical toll.
No, the athleticism on display isn't the powerful, soaring sort that one sees just by watching LeBron James for a quarter of basketball, but it's athleticism nonetheless, honed by a unique training regimen of calculated stomach expansion and exercise to keep space-impeding fat off.
Joey Chestnut is the contest's domineering presence with seven straight titles. The last four have an asterisk for some, however. Takeru Kobayashi, who won the event six straight times from 2001-06, hasn't competed in the event since 2009 due to his refusal to sign an exclusive contract with Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Ode to Joey Chestnut, our most American athlete
Joey Chestnut will eat hot dogs on the Fourth of July for America, and like every other year, he will win at eating hot dogs for America. He is a hero, and we should celebrate him.
Whether Kobayashi would have beaten Chestnut in any one of the last four contests -- Chestnut went against Kobayashi from 2007-09, and won -- is unknown, but Kobayashi has accomplished incredible (unofficial) feats in the intervening years. He reportedly set a world record by eating 69 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes in 2011 during a personal July 4 eating display conducted, but the accomplishment went unrecognized because it was unsanctioned. Chestnut equaled the feat at the 2013 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest to set the official world record.
Kobayashi may still make an appearance in Coney Island. Though he was barred from the event, he still showed up at Surf and Stillwell in 2010, and was arrested after going up on stage when the contest ended. Kobayashi was quickly ushered off the stage by security, though he resisted amidst chants of "Let him eat! Let him eat!" and was booked by NYPD for resisting arrest, trespassing and obstructing government administration.
The Chestnut-Kobayashi subplot has dominated the contest for years, however. Adding a new wrinkle will be Matt Stonie, who is ranked as the No. 2 competitive eater in the world at just 22 years old. He was given a lovely Grantland profile last August, and should serve as Chestnut's closest competition while Kobayashi remains in exile.
2014 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest (all times ET)
Nathan's Famous at Surf Ave. and Stillwell Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y.
July 4, 2014
WatchESPN will have a live stream.
Noon -- Coverage begins
12:30 p.m. -- Introduction of male competitors
12:40 p.m. -- Men's contest begins