The new Red Scare is upon us.
America’s new-found bogeyman — The People’s Republic of China — will seek to claim its greatest victory over the United States next week, sending its three top competitive eaters to the annual Nathan’s hot dog-eating on July 4.
“We’ve awakened the sleeping giant,” said George Shea, the president of Major League Eating, the governing body of all stomach-centric sports and the overseer of the annual frankfest in Coney Island, which is set for noon on Independence Day. “Given how the Chinese are dominating America, it would be mere hubris to believe that they will not someday dominate us at the Table of Champions.”
Will it happen this year? Unlikely. But that’s what Americans were saying a generation ago, when a similar Asian invasion landed on these shores in the form of Hirofumi Nakajima, the diminutive destroyer whose victory over Ed “The Maspeth Monster” Krachie in 1996 began what historians call “The Rising Bun” era of professional eating.
“No one saw them coming then, just as no one sees the Chinese coming today,” Shea said. “This is literally a crisis that is ‘Made in China.’ ”
The good news is that America is ready for its greatest challenge. Though we may be falling behind in solar power technology, hydro-electric flooding and rice-making, in this one sphere of global competition, America can truly say that it is a world leader.
The reigning four-time world champion, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut is no stranger to Pacific Rim competition, having defeated Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi three times, even vanquishing him to the sidelines last year.
Chestnut remains the world record holder, with a stunning 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. And last week in Beijing, before a television audience of one billion people (give or take), he ate 39 HDBs in five minutes.
“He will break his world record this year,” Shea predicted. “No one can beat him. But what about next year, or the year after that? These Chinese are not going anywhere.”
Spearheading the Chinese attack is Yat Ming Lam, a 32-year-old clerk who has been a competitive eater since 2006. Little is known about the diminutive bureaucrat, but he has eaten 44 German sausage in eight minutes and a four-person portion of Japanese noodles in five minutes.
“When you talk about Yat, you talk about temperament,” Shea said.
Also on the Chinese team is Lu Ming Kui, a 31-year-old from Qingdao. Lu will join his countrymen after a visa snafu almost killed his chances. Major League Eating reached out to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and suddenly the visa problem disappeared.
“Secretary of State Clinton refused to acknowledge any role in the resolution of this crisis, or, in fact, to confirm that she even received our letter,” she said. “But I can see the hand of a masterful diplomat, guiding our nation to a new era of cooperation with a rising economic and competitive eating power.”
Geopolitics aside, the Chinese have one thing in their favor: raw numbers.
“They have one billion people — so you have to believe that out there in Beijing or in Shanghai, in Lhasa or in Hangzhou, or in the tiny peasant villages of Jingdong, Zogang, or Ningnan there must be a champion simply waiting to be discovered,” said Shea.
The Chinese are not sending any women challengers this year, giving Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas little competition in the first-ever women’s division this year. That contest will start at 11:30 am. Thomas is the women’s world record holder, having eaten 41 HDBs.
And what of Kobayashi? The legendary gustatory gladiator — who won the contest for an unprecedented six straight years — was last seen not at the table of champions, but in the crowd on July 4, 2010, an appearance made in protest to his bitter contract dispute with Major League Eating. Towards the end of the contest, he tried to rush the stage, and was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing.
He beat the rap, but has not rejoined the Major League Eating fold.
This year, he will again take on Chestnut, but in a bizarre stunt: he’ll try to match the champion while watching the contest’s live ESPN broadcast from the air-conditioned confines of 230 FIFTH, a rooftop bar and lounge in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
The bar is spinning the stunt as Kobayashi exercising his “freedom to feed in defiance of Major League Eating,” but Shea just thought the whole thing was sad.
“So this is Kobayashi’s life now, not competing against live athletes, but doing stunts in bars against a TV set,” he said. “It is just so sad.”
Nathan’s July 4 contest [Surf Avenue at Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island, (212) 627-5766], festivities begin at 10 am. For info, visit www.majorleagueeating.com.