It was double disappointment at Coney island on July 4 as three-time world hot dog–eating champion Joey Chestnut triumphed over 15 challengers at the annual Nathan’s contest — but he not only failed to come close to his history-making performances of the past, he also had to watch as his greatest challenger, Takeru Kobayashi, rushed the stage at the end of the contest and was arrested.
It was a bizarre footnote to a fortnight of confusion that began when Kobayashi, a six-time world champ, refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating, the governing body of all stomach-centric sports, and was, therefore, not assigned a spot at the table of champions. That absence allowed Chestnut, who set the world record last year with 68 hot dogs and buns, to cruise to victory under scorching conditions with just 54 HDBs.
Kobayashi’s re-emergence stunned fans of competitive eating, who had been consuming a steady diet of reports that he would not be at the contest because he had failed to sign a contract with Major League Eating, a story first broken by this paper.
Chestnut said Kobayashi’s absence had nothing to do with his sub-historic performance under stifling weather conditions.
“I was not firing on all cylinders,” the champ told us seconds after winning the Mustard Yellow International Belt for the fourth straight year at the July 4 contest. “Of course, I wanted to set a record, but it was hot out there. If Kobi had competed, his numbers would have been down, too.”
As Chestnut basked in the victory, Kobayashi created a major disturbance by rushing the stage and being detained by officers from the 60th Precinct stationhouse, where he was spirited away.
He was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest, though Major League Eating said it does not want to see him punished.
“What I saw was not criminal but desperation,” said MLE Executive Director George Shea. “He doesn’t want to be a Major League Eater and then he shows up here? Why?”
Kobayashi, who was held overnight before his arraignment in Downtown Brooklyn on Monday, told reporters that he was in the crowd as a spectator until fans of the sport started chanting, “Let him eat. Let him eat.”
“I was hoping, because of the crowd, they would let me eat,” Kobayashi said.
Footage of the Kobayashi arrest shows the Japanese speaker saying only, “Let me in [to compete]” as he was taken away by police. He was wearing a “Free Kobi” T-shirt, and his translator added that the former champ only wanted a place at the table.
(Former Brooklyn Paper legend Ben Muessig has a wonderful slideshow of the arrest on AOL News.)
But that place was in question because of the contract dispute — a story that got so hot that even the mayor of the world’s greatest city felt compelled to weigh in last week.
“Well, you know what they say: If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” the mayor said, drawing gasps from the press corps at Friday’s ceremonial weigh-in.
Kobayashi later fired back that the mayor was uninformed, and he let it be known to some reporters that he was in New York City, though few could have predicted the bizarre ending.
Indeed, about an hour before the festivities started at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues, Kobayashi’s personal manager — and girlfriend — sent out an e-mail to “his fans” to let them know of his plans to show up.
“Kobayashi will be going to the contest,” she wrote, claiming that he only intended to “cheer on his ex-fellow eaters in the spirit of July 4th.”
“But,” she added, “he will also be there and ready, if for any miraculous reason, he is allowed to compete, even without a secured contract.”
The “spirit of July 4th” ended in arrest and ignominy — though Major League Eating tried to take the high road.
“Takeru Kobayashi’s actions at the contest were inappropriate and unfortunate, but it did not diminish Joey Chestnut’s victory, or the holiday tradition that dates back generations,” the league said in a statement. “Kobayashi was a great champion and we hope that he is able to resolve his current situation and move past this.”
Chestnut also refused to let the detention of Kobayashi ruin the day.
“I just wish he’d figure out what he wants and work it out,” Chestnut said.
In the 10-minute contest, Tim “Eater X” Janus finished a distant second with 45 HDBs and Patrick Bertoletti finished third with 37.