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Nathan’s frank fight drops weight

The celebrated Nathan’s hot dog contest — the granddaddy of all competitive-eating competitions — will drop from the traditional 12 minutes to just 10 this year.

The sudden change in the so-called World Cup of Eating was not publicly announced, but appears in a vaguely worded, three-paragraph item on the Major League Eating Web site. The note said the change for the upcoming July 4 contest comes after the discovery of a trove of “numerous old items and ephemera” near the Nathan’s stand at the historic corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues in Coney Island.

“It was in the form of random notes and contest-related scribblings that were apparently unearthed at Nathan’s,” said George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating.

“We put together a team of experts to determine its validity and then, through the use of what I believe scholars call ‘a Google search,’ we discovered a New York Times article from 1986 that referred to the contest as taking 10 minutes.”

Major League Eating President Richard Shea said the Times article was particularly compelling evidence that the contest’s traditional length was actually 10 minutes, not the 12 minutes that have been the standard for at least two decades.

“It had David Dunlap’s byline, and he’s a credible reporter,” Richard Shea said. “Plus, it mentioned that the winner ate his hot dogs and buns, so clearly he got the details correct.”

The decision will have profound implications on the man-eat-dog world of gustatory gluttony.

Indeed, reigning world champ Joey Chestnut, who downed 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes last July 4, only surged past six-time champ Takeru Kobayashi in the last few minutes of the contest.

Chestnut was disappointed in the change, hailing the 12-minute contest as “the sport’s standard.”

“I think it’s a ridiculous change,” the champ said, via cellphone from his home near San Jose, Calif.

But he did not think the shorter format would affect his game.

“Every eater can get to his capacity in 10 minutes, or in even less time,” he said. “I’ll just have to get to my capacity faster.”

Another celebrated eater questioned the Shea brothers’ integrity in overseeing a sport that has ballooned like the midsection of a competitive eater.

“I know what this is all about,” said the eater, who requested anonymity because he is still active on a circuit that includes contests in lobster rolls, ice cream, jalapeno peppers and pan-seared cow brains.

“The contest is ultimately about marketing Nathan’s, and there have been too many close calls lately.”

Indeed, Kobayashi himself has suffered reflexes contrary to swallowing twice in his illustrious career, most recently last year, when he appeared to vomit up bits of hot dog and bun, only to re-ingest it.

Some saw it as the mark of a true champion. Others saw it as disgusting.

“That’s the last image that Nathan’s wants on TV screens all over the country — people spitting up their delicious hot dogs,” the eater said.

But George Shea vehemently denied that the two-minute trim was an effort to sanitize the contest.

“That’s not the issue!” he said. “The issue is history, and the preponderance of the evidence now suggests that the contest was always 10 minutes.

“It’s like the Constitution,” he added. “Are you a strict constructionist or not?”

Shea was asked whether he was.

“I don’t know,” he said. “What’s a strict constructionist about the Constitution? I’m not sure. But on this, I am a strict constructionist.”

Shea may have to eat those words. Research by The Brooklyn Paper uncovered two earlier Times articles, one from 1972 and another from 1974 that referred to a three-and-a-half-minute contest.

In other words, stay tuned.

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