IN ONE of the most impressive sporting feats of the week, Australia’s top-ranked competitive eater, James Webb, finished third in the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, consuming 47 hot dogs in less than 10 minutes.
Fittingly, this most American of sports holds its peak event on Independence Day, with this year’s contest won by Indiana’s Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. Widely regarded as competitive eating’s GOAT, Chestnut devoured an elite 62 hot dogs to claim his 16th Mustard Belt and eighth in a row.
In claiming third place Webb, who hails from Sydney’s Baulkham Hills, beat his previous record of 41 hot dogs, but fell short of his pre-tournament goal of 50, a feat only eight people have previously accomplished.
“It was absolutely mental, from start to finish,” Webb told The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food. “We were all hungry and lethargic, just running off fumes and adrenaline.”
If you’re reading this while raising an eyebrow and subduing a gag-reflex you should know that competitive eating, while an incredibly silly pun-inducing* sport, is taken extremely seriously by competitors and boasts a rabid fan base. The men’s contest was broadcast live on ESPN2; the women’s contest, won by Miki Sudo, who ate 39.5 hot dogs, was shown live on the ESPN app.
So, how did Webb prepare for the assault on his stomach? In the same way any pro athlete would: meticulously. The night before he visited an all-you-can-eat buffet where he ate for three hours straight to expand his stomach. He then drank copious amounts of water, before hitting the gym for a workout.
Webb got into competitive eating during a holiday in the Hunter Valley in 2021, when he took on the Khartoum Hotel Burger Challenge. In a moment akin to Max Verstappen’s maiden GP victory in his debut race with Red Bull back in 2016, Webb announced his God-given talent to the world by becoming the first person to consume the five-kilogram burger within the required 30-minute time frame.
Webb is now a pro muncher, quitting his day job to compete in global tournaments. He’s currently ranked 10 in the world by Major League Eating, a group that describes itself as “the governing body of all stomach-centric sports”.
Hungry to learn more about the world of competitive eating? Here are some fats, sorry facts (see what I mean*), to chew on.
Is Joey ‘Jaws’ Cheshnut really the GOAT of competitive eating?
Yes, Chestnut is Jordan, there is no LeBron. Since 2007, he’s only lost once at Nathan’s in 2015. Before Chestnut entered his prime, Japan’s Takeru ‘Tsunami’ Kobayashi was considered the godfather of the sport and the best pound-for-pound eater in the world, winning six Nathan’s titles. Chestnut then took the mantle and has been largely unbeatable since. After winning his sixth consecutive hot dog eating contest in 2012 Chestnut said, “This sport isn’t about eating. It’s about drive and dedication, and at the end of the day, hot dog eating challenges both my body and my mind.” After Chestnut’s victory this week, NBA no. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama called the 39-year-old “the most dominant athlete ever”.
Is competitive eating really dangerous?
What do you think? Competitors regularly consume several times more food than is required to rupture the stomach, which can lead to potentially lethal infection, reports Reader’s Digest. In a University of Pennsylvania study, researchers said of competitive eating: “We speculate that professional speed eaters eventually may develop morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis, intractable nausea and vomiting, and even the need for a gastrectomy. Despite its growing popularity, competitive speed eating is a potentially self-destructive form of behaviour.” Appetite for destruction*, I guess.
Do competitive eaters regularly vomit?
Yes, but they don’t call it that. Instead puking is referred to as a ‘reversal’ or a ‘Roman incident’. Buckets are on hand during contests and a reversal results in instant disqualification, though get this, only if the food comes out of your mouth! Swallow your reversal and you’re good to go.
Do competitive eaters compete in other foods?
Yes. While hot dogs are the gold standard, competitive eaters also eat chicken wings, poutine (a Canadian dish of French fries, cheese curds and gravy), tacos and donuts, among other things.
What are the limits of competitive eating?
Like any sport, records will continue to fall in competitive eating but there could be a threshold for what the stomach can hold. A study by High Point University in North Carolina predicted that 84 hotdogs is “the maximum possible limit for a Usain Bolt-type performance”. The analysis was based on 39 years of historical data from the Nathan’s contest. Seriously though, you’d be foolish to bet against Chestnut to hand Science an L.