Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest

From Academic Kids

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs hosts an annual hot dog eating contest at the site of their first restaurant at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. There are other hot dog contests but none are as famous or claim to have a long a history as the Nathan's hot dog eating contest.

According to oral history, in 1916, four immigrants had a Nathan's hot dog eating contest at the site of the first Nathan's Famous stand to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic, though it may have been a publicity stunt. After 12 minutes, Irish-born Jim Mullen had eaten 13 hot dogs and the other three contestants could not go on. Ever since, a 12 minute contest has been held every year on July 4, Independence Day, usually at noon (except for years 1939, 1940, and 1941 as a protest to World War II and 1971 as a protest to civil unrest). In 1993 There was a one time one-on-one contest under the Brooklyn Bridge between Mike The Scholar DeVito and Orio Ito.

Every year songwriter Amos Wengler writes and performs a new song for the contest as a person in a hot dog costume dances. Previous song titles are "Hot Dog Time!", "Hot Dogs, Hot Dogs" and "Where is the Belt?".


The rules

The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) has overseen this contest since 1997 when the federation was formed. Rules used in the early days of the contest were different, but are largely lost.

At noon on July 4th at the location of the first Nathan's restarant (Coney Island, Brooklyn), roughly 20 contestants stand on a raised platform behind a 30-ft-long table with hot dogs and drinks. Condiments are optional and are usually not used. After the hot dogs are grilled they are allowed to cool slightly so as not to cause any burning when eaten. Whoever eats (and keeps down) the most hot dogs and buns (sometimes abreviated "HTBs") in 12 minutes is the winner. Partially eaten hot dogs count and the granularity of measurement is eighths of a hot dog. Any hot dog still in the mouth at the end of the 12 minutes count if they are swallowed. Unlike The Wimpy National Hotdog championships in London, both hands may be used.

There have been controversies. For example, in 1999 NY1 news reporter Adam Balkin discovered by reviewing the tape that Steve Keiner jumped the gun and had eaten half a hot dog before the contest had officially begun. The judge, who was standing directly in front of Keiner, missed it or else Keiner would have been disqualified. According to the rules, the judges' word is final so Keiner took first place despite the videotape.

After the winner is declared, a plate with the number of hot dogs eaten by the winner is brought out. Winners receive a trophy, the coveted international "bejeweled" mustard-yellow belt (of "unknown age and value" according to George Shea, co-founder of the IFOCE), and a "year's supply" of Nathan's hotdogs (actually, just two cases). There is no cash award, but sometimes a sponsor will give a prize to the winner (as in 2004 when Orbitz donated a "travel package"). The belt rests in the country of the current winner. It is now (2005) on display in the Imperial Palace in Saitama near the Nakazato Danchi campus, Japan and will remain there until the 2005 contest.

Contestants must be at least 18 years old to compete, but this rule has not always been in effect.

In 2003 ex-professional football player William "The Refrigerator" Perry competed as a celebrity contestant. Though he won a qualifier by eating 12 hot dogs, he stopped eating 5 minutes into the actual competition having eaten just 4. George Shea stated on July 1, 2004 at a ceremony following a showing of Crazy Legs Conti's documentary that the celebrity contestant experiment will likely not be repeated.

Media coverage


It is typical for news sources that report on the contest to use punning headlines and copy such as "'Tsunami' is eating contest's top dog again", "couldn't cut the mustard" (AP), "Nathan's King ready, with relish" (Daily News) and "To be frank, Fridge faces a real hot-dog consumer" (ESPN).

Reporter Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Post has been covering the event since the early 1990's and has been a judge at the competition since 2000. Darren Rovell of ESPN has competed in a qualifier.

Film and Television

The Nathan's contest has been featured in these documentaries and television programs:

  • "Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest" (1997) - camcorder footage of Joe Terwilliger's 1997 qualifying attempt
  • "Red, White, and Yellow" (1998)
  • "A Hot Dog Program: An All-American, Culinary Cruise Through Hot Dog History" (1999)
  • "Gut Busters" (2002) Made for TV - Discovery Channel
  • "King of the Hill", "The Fat and the Furious" episode (2002)
  • "Footlong" (2002) - not the 2003 short film of the same name
  • "The Tsunami - Takeru Kobayashi" (2003) Japanese
  • "Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating" (2004)
  • "The Most Extreme", "Big Mouths" episode (2004) (Animal Planet)

In 2004, the contest began at 12:40 pm presumably because ESPN was covering the event live for the first time. ESPN hired Windfall Productions (Ralph J. Mole, Exec. Producer) who used six cameras, a live New York City crew and a TV mobile unit to produce a one hour network sports special about the contest - the first ever. It was hosted by Gary Miller and was carried live in Times Square on the ABC "Jumbotron". The event is scheduled to be covered again by ESPN in 2005.

CNN's Jeannie Moos covered the contest on CNN in a piece called "A Different Story," (July 4, 1996). VivaVeggie protesters could be seen in the background calling out the ingredients in hot dogs.


The competition draws many spectators and worldwide press coverage as well as the occasional protest from The VivaVeggie Society, a vegetarian advocacy group. In 2004 it was estimated that 5,000 spectators watched.

In June, 2004 a 3 story high "Hot Dog Eating Wall of Fame" was erected at the site of the annual contest. The wall lists past records going back to 1984 and has a digital clock which counts down the minutes until the next contest.

Two days before the event is the "weigh-in and certification ceremony" hosted by the mayor of New York city and representatives from Nathan's Famous and IFOCE at City Hall Park in Manhattan.

The Japanese domination

The contest has been a national favorite since its beginning. Since 1986, a Japanese competitor has held the belt in all but 4 years (1993-1995, 1999). In 2000, the first, second and third places were all taken by Japanese contestants (Kazutoyo Arai, 新井和響, 25; Misao "Beast" Fujita, 藤田操, 24; Takako Akasaka, 赤阪尊子, , 22).

In comparison to some of the top contestants of the U.S. who are tall and fat, Japanese contestants (with one exception - Nobuyuki Shirota) are thin and not that tall. One explanation for the Japanese's domanance may be Ed Krachie's "Belt of Fat" theory which states that the stomach fat of the larger competitors restricts their stomachs from expanding beyond a certain point. In 1998 Krachie wrote a journal article called "Can abdominal fat act as a restrictive agent on stomach expansion? An Exploration of the Impact of Adipose Tissue on Competitive Eating". It was rejected by all of the many scientific journals in the United States and Canada that it was submitted to.

Despite the collective will of the Americans to take back the prize, most U.S. contestants have not come close to Japanese records, though they are catching up. Of the 6 contestants who have eaten 30 hot dogs or more, half are American, though the Japanese hold the top two positions. The best non-Japanese competitor, Sonya K. Thomas, is only 6 hot dogs behind the #2 eater but 21.5 hot dogs behind the #1 record holder Takeru Kobayashi. Even among Japanese contestants, Takeru Kobayashi is untouchable. No one from any country has ever even matched his worst showing of 44 hot dogs in 2003. Kobayashi is the only person in the history of the contest to eat more than 40 hot dogs (his record is 53.5 (2004) or on average a little under 13.5 seconds per hot dog). He is also the only person in the recorded history of the contest to win four competitions in a row.

Kobayashi also competes in other (non-hot dog) eating contests in Japan. These Japanese contests are sponsored by TV Tokyo's (テレビ東京) TV Champion (TVチャンピオン), started in 1992 is a weekly TV program whose subject has been mostly food-related (sushi championship, fast-eating championship, kids' cooking championship ...).

Tactics and training

Each contestant has his or her way to eat hot dogs. Takeru Kobayashi pioneered the "Solomon Method" at his first competition in 2001. The method is to break each hot dog in half, eat the two halves at once, then eat the bun. Kobayashi does a little hip-wiggling dance while he eats, which lead to speculations that it was part of his technique, but he insists he was just getting into the music. Anyway, table manners are not a part of the game. Carlene LeFevre hops to help get the hot dogs down. Contestants typically stand while eating or lean forward.

It is thought that high blood-sugar levels open the pylorus, the link between the stomach and the duodenum so some contestants eat sweets before the contest.

Avoid building muscles in back or stomach.

Because buns absorb water, some contestants prefer to drink as little as possible. Others dunk their hot dogs (or just the buns) in water and squeeze them to make them easier to swallow.

The idea of eating the hot dogs and buns separately was invented by Kazutoyo Arai and is sometimes called "Tokyo style" or "Japanesing".

Contestants train and prepare for the event in different ways. Some fast, others drink and purge large amounts of water before the event. Takeru Kobayashi meditates, drinks water and eats cabbage, then fasts before the event. Kevin Lipsitz used to train by having eating races with his dogs, but animal rights advocates convinced him to stop. Several contestants, such as Ed Jarvis, aim to be "hungry, but not too hungry" and have a light breakfast the morning of the event.

The IFOCE does not sanction home training and does not endorse any particular training methods.


The contest has been criticized for glorifying overeating and for contributing to the obesity of its participants. Some competitive eaters object to the contest allowing eating buns and hot dogs separately and call for a return to "picnic style" eating. Some object to the IFOCE requiring a signed contract as a requirement of participation. Other contestants believe it is not fair that some purge the food right after the contest. Still others oppose the IFOCE's "judges ruling is final" policy in cases where videotape evidence shows the judges were wrong.

Although the contest is carefully judged and documented, the winner has never appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records. Guinness removed its "Gluttony" category in 1990, yet strangely it still lists Peter Dowdeswell's 2001 achievement of eating 4 hot dogs and buns in 3 minutes at the Wimpy National Hotdog championships. Though the hot dog brand and the rules differ in the Wimpy contest, it's hard to believe that in 2001 eating 4 hot dogs and buns in 3 minutes (1.33 per minute) was considered by Guinness to be a greater accomplishment than Kobayashi's eating 50 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes in the same year (4.16 per minute). Kobayashi has appeared in Ripley's Believe it or Not books.

Qualifying contests

Contestants need to win one of the qualifier contests held at various locations worldwide in order to compete. Contestants can enter at most 3 qualifiers per year. Once a qualifier has been won, the winner cannot compete in another qualifier in the same year. There can be no more than 15 contestants at any given qualifier (first come/first served). The first international qualifier was held in 1993. There are generally about 20 qualifying events. The first national qualifiers were held in 1997. Additional prizes are sometimes given to winners of qualifiers such as a paid trip to the July 4th contest.

For example, Don "Moses" Lerman out-ate everyone at the Saratoga, NY qualifier on August 22, 2004 at the Saratoga Race Track. He can participate in the 2005 contest at Coney Island.

United States cities that have hosted or plan to host qualifiers

Cities outside the United States that have hosted or plan to host qualifiers

A partial list of winners

  1. --------u--------------------------------------------------- 9 4/8 US Birgit Felden
  2. ----------u------------------------------------------------- 11 6/8 US Oscar Rodriguez
  3. -----------u------------------------------------------------ 12 0/8 US Don Wolfman
  4. -----------u------------------------------------------------ 12 0/8 US Don Wolfman
  5. ------------u----------------------------------------------- 13 0/8 US Jay Green
  6. -------------u---------------------------------------------- 14 0/8 US Jay Green
  7. ---------------u---------------------------------------------16 0/8 US Mike "The Scholar" Devito
  8. --------------------u--------------------------------------- 21 0/8 US Frank "Hollywood" Dellarosa (World Record)
  9. ------------------u----------------------------------------- 19 0/8 US Frank "Hollywood" Dellarosa
  10. ----------------u------------------------------------------- 17 0/8 US Mike "The Scholar" Devito
  11. -------------------u---------------------------------------- 20 0/8 US Mike "The Scholar" Devito
  12. ------------------u----------------------------------------- 19 4/8 US Ed Krachie
  13. ---------------------u-------------------------------------- 22 2/8 US Ed Krachie (World Record)
  14. ----------------------j------------------------------------- 24 4/8 JP Hirofumi Nakajima (World Record)
  15. ------------------j----------------------------------------- 19 0/8 JP Hirofumi Nakajima
  16. -------------------u---------------------------------------- 20 2/8 US Steve Keiner
  17. ------------------------j----------------------------------- 25 1/8 JP Kazutoyo "The Rabbit" Arai (新井和響) (World Record)
  18. -------------------------------------------------j---------- 50 0/8 JP Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi (小林尊) (World Record)
  19. -------------------------------------------------j---------- 50 4/8 JP Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi (World Record)
  20. -------------------------------------------j---------------- 44 4/8 JP Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi
  21. ----------------------------------------------------j------- 53 4/8 JP Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi (Current World Record)

  Key: - => 1 hot dog
       x => how many hot dogs were eaten by the winner that year ( u=US, j=JP )
       x => world record

Recent contest results

Here are some results from the latest contest (2004):

  1. 53.5 Takeru Kobayashi - world record and personal best
  2. 38 Nobuyuki Shirota - personal best
  3. 32 Sonya Thomas - personal best, American record, woman's record
  4. 27.75 Rich LeFevre - personal best
  5. 27 Tie: Ed Jarvis/Eric Booker
  6. 22 Tie: Ron Koch/Carlene LeFevre - personal best
  7. 21 Tie: Oleg Zhornitskiy /Jim Reeves - personal best
  8. 20.75 Jim Reeves
  9. 20 Joe LaRue - personal best
  10. 19 Allen Goldstein - personal best
  11. 18 Tie: Charles Hardy/Don Lerman/Dale Boone

Contestant bios

Takeru Kobayashi

Takeru Kobayashi stunned the competitive eating world in 2001 when in his first competition he nearly doubled the then world record of 25 1/8 hot dogs. IFOCE, who mark progress during the competition by holding numbered cards over contestants' heads ran out of cards and had to make do with numbers hastily written onto notebook paper. Immediately after the contest, Kobayashi ate an additional 2 hot dogs for the press.

"Hungry" Charles Hardy

First qualifier - 1998 ( civil service )

A list of contestants (and their personal bests in qualifiers and the event itself)

40 hot dogs or more

30 hot dogs or more ("The Tre")

20 hot dogs or more ("The Deuce")

10 hot dogs or more

  • Dave Levitt - 19.5 (#1 June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Mike "The Scholar" Devito - 19 (tied #2 June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Joseph H. "The Professor" Terwilliger - 19 (tied #2 June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Bill "Black Tie Bill" Stobierski (Ansonia, CT) - 14 (1999), (? 2004 East Hartford CT Qualifier)
  • Allen "Shredder"/"The Protege" Goldstein (Plainview, NY) - 19 (#9 2004), 18 1/2 (#2 May 21 2005 East Hartford, CT Qualifier)
  • "Humble" Bob Shoudt (Royersford, PA) (#3 18 3/4 May 2005 Philadelphia qualifier, 16 #2 two other times)
  • Peter Washburn (USA) - 18.5 (1960's)
  • "Big" Brian Subich (Pittsburgh) - 18 (#4 2005 Philadelphia, PA Qualifier)
  • Simon Hopewell (Christchurch New Zealand) - 18
  • Bill "El Wingador" Simmons (Woodbury Heights NJ, USA) - 18 (2004? Philadelphia Qualifier)
  • Chris "The Crusher"/"The Hot Dog Hunk" Eyre (Newton/Vancouver, BC, Canada) - 17.75 (#8 2001?), 18.5 (2001? Rye? Qualifier)
  • Dale "Mouth 'O the South" Boone (Atlanta GA, USA) - 18 #11 2004
  • David "Coondog" O'Karma (Cuyahoga Falls OH, USA) - 17 (#7?/20 2001)
  • "Krazy" Kevin Lipsitz(USA) - 16.5 (200?)
  • Curtis "The Rock" Sliwa (USA) - 16 (before 2001)
  • Carson "Collard Green" Hughes - 14 (tied for #15/20 2003), 16 (#1 June 14 2003 Norfolk VA Qualifier)
  • Leon "Justice" Feingold (1999), 15.5 (1999 Oceanside, Long Island NY, USA Qualifier)
  • Laurie Ginden - 15 (#1 1975)
  • Dominic "The Doginator" Cardo - 15 (Molly Pitcher NJ Qualifier)
  • Chris Coble - 15 (2004 Hollywood, CA Qualifier)
  • Jay Green - 14 (#1 1989)
  • James Dinkins (Apopka, FL) - 14 (#1 2004 Big Dog Derby FL)
  • Brian Davenport - 13.5 (2004 Molly Pitcher NJ Qualifier)
  • "Beautiful" Brian Seiken - 13.5 (2004 Molly Pitcher NJ Qualifier)
  • David "Boss Man" Kondik - 13.5 (2004 Molly Pitcher NJ Qualifier)
  • Jim Mullen (US) - 13 (1916) (first winner ever)
  • "Kid" Cary DeGrosa, The Las Vegas Lothorio (Nevada, USA) 13 (#1 May 28th 1998 Las Vegas Qualifier)
  • Robert "Don't call me Anderson" Andrusco - 13 (#3 August 22, 2004 Saratoga NY Qualifier)
  • Mike LeMay (South Windsor, CT) - 12.5 (2005 E. Harford, CT qualifier)
  • Don Wolfman - 12 (#1 1986)
  • William "The Refrigerator" Perry - 4 (2003), 12 (2003 Qualifier)
  • Charlie Otzel (Ocala, FL) - 12 (#2 2004 Big Dog Derby, FL)
  • Oscar Rodriguez - 11.75 (#1 1985)
  • John Thompson (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA) 11.5 (#1 1997 Las Vegas Qualifier)
  • ChowHound Chapman - 11.5 (6 minutes) (#1 1991 Rockaway Park, NY Qualifier)
  • Damien Yee - 11 (#1 2003? Boston Qualifier)
  • Eligio Gualano (Mamaroneck, NY) - 11 ( #1 August 18 2004 Mameroneck NY Qualifier)
  • Steven Leitheuser (Ballston Spa, NY) - 11 (August 22 2004 Saratoga NY Qualifier)
  • Sabatino "Sonny" Manzi - 11 (Molly Pitcher NJ Qualifier)
  • Kevin "The Kid" Sinclair - 10 (#1 1978), 5 (2004 Staten Island Qualifier)
  • Gerry Beyer - 10 (1997)
  • Barry Noble (United Kingdom) - 10 (1998)
  • Curly Young - 10 (#2 2004 Tempe AZ, USA qualifier at Arizona Mills Mall)

Less than 10

  • Birgit Felden - 9.5 (#1 1984)
  • Mark Yarmarkovich - 9 (#2 2003? Boston Qualifier)
  • Jim Rose - (AZ) 9 (#3 2004 Tempe AZ, USA qualifier at Arizona Mills Mall)
  • Darren Rovell - 6 (MA Qualifier)
  • Dominique Encio - 5 (2004 Big Dog Derby FL)

Contestants and qualifier contestants with missing information

  • Lavrisa Sweeny (Ocala, FL) - (2004 Big Dog Derby FL)
  • David Campbell (Ocala, FL) - (2004 Big Dog Derby FL)
  • Sivaphol Tantianankul
  • Wayne "The Duke" Delduca (Westchester, NY) (2000)
  • Mike Richmond (New Rochelle, NY) (August 18 2004 Mameroneck NY Qualifier)
  • Ray "The Bison" Meduna (Tie #1 2003? Los Angeles Qualifier)- (WA,USA) (2003 Tempe AZ, USA qualifier at Arizona Mills Mall)
  • "Bayou" Boyd Bulot (Tie #1 2003? Los Angeles Qualifier)
  • "A young lady from Romania" - (Transylvania, Romania) (#1 2002 Tempe AZ, USA qualifier at Arizona Mills Mall)
  • Leon Feingold's sister (1999 Oceanside, Long Island NY, USA Qualifier)
  • Matthew Peterson (June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Floyd E. Bryand (June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Bobby Appleman (June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Jose Dellarose (June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Howard Winter (June 28, 1997 Jersey City, NJ Qualifier)
  • Kai Hoppmann (Bad Gandersheim, Germany)
  • Frederic Roller (Stuttgart, Germany) (1999)
  • Kevin Lamb (Vancouver, BC)
  • David Tasie (Vancouver, BC) (1999)
  • George "Garbage Gut" Glum (Portland, ME) (1999)
  • Godfrey Bertelsen (Belper, Derbyshire, England United Kingdom)
  • Larry "Bad Little Doggie" Butler (Tempe, AZ)
  • Brian Goldfarb
  • Syd "Mongo" Goldstein (NY, USA)
  • Gerta Hasselhoff (#1 1950?)
  • Rudman V. Libnitz
  • Stan Libnitz (Flushing, Queens, USA) (#1-2? 1930-38)
  • David "Moe Ribs" Molesky (Ohio) (#8?/20 2001)
  • Andrew Rudman (Brighton Beach NY, USA) (#1-2? 1930-38)
  • Marcus Steinhoff (Ureinsen, Germany)
  • Orio Ito
  • "Top Dog"
  • Ken "Tender Vittle" Tittle (2003 Atlanta, GA Qualifier)

Quotes about the contest

The Nathans Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest has become a highlight of Americas greatest patriotic holiday...It epitomizes the spirit associated with the start of summer each year. - Wayne Norbitz, president and COO of Nathans Famous

"My congratulations to the guy from Japan who won the hot dog eating contest. He ate 25 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He's the big winner. He'll receive a check for $1,000 and colon cancer." - David Letterman (7/7/2000)

"By the fifth one, they're going to start tasting bad -- no matter how good they are. Your mind says stop, but you have to find a way to get over that and keep going." - George "Garbage Gut" Glum (1999?)

"Takeru Kobayashi is absolutely, and without question, the greatest sports eater who ever picked up a frankfurter" - Sonya Thomas

"That's not sport. That's stupidity." - Lou Pinella

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