COMPETITIVE EATING

Overview:

11 pounds of cheesecake. 161 chicken wings. Ten pounds of Meatballs. 57 cow brains. This isn't the shopping list for some sort of disgusting buffet. Each is a record held by one of the world's greatest competitive eaters, and in each case, the given quantity was consumed in under 15 minutes!

Gurgitators, as they are called in the sport, are a rare but balooning breed. But in the last half decade, one name has gurgled to the top: Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano , Japan . Kobayashi has appeared on American television a number of times, including the "Glutton Bowl #1" (2002) and "Man Vs. Beast" (2003). In the Glutton Bowl, he blasted through the qualifier and dominated the final "surprise delicacy" round of cow brains. In his Man Vs. Beast appearance, Kobayashi suffered a rare defeat... to a Kodiak bear.

The amazingly slender 132-pound Kobayashi annually dominates the world's greatest test of gastric fortitiude: Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Feed on Coney Island. In the 2005 edition of this July Fourth gathering of internationally acclaimed gurgitators, Kobayashi earned his fifth title in a row by consuming 49 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. He was a bit off his 2004 world record of 53 1/2 dogs but still left Nathan's with 12 more hot dogs in his stomach than any other competitor.



Perhaps more surprising to some is that the runner-up trophy went to the unlikely Virginian Sonya Thomas, the 105 pound 2003 Rookie of the Year (as proclaimed by the International Federation of Competitive Eating). Thomas holds a multitude of records, including those for cheesecake, chicken wings, and meatballs. Nearly undefeated in 2004, some believe that she will become the greatest eater of all time by dethroning Kobayashi.

Insiders also have their eyes on American Joey Chestnut (San Jose, CA ), who took third behind Kobayashi and Thomas at Nathan's, upsetting Thomas at the Waffle House waffles competition, and leading Kobayashi for seven of eight minutes in the Krystal hamburger competition final. Chestnut is definitely one to watch.

Competitive eating is one of the oldest and most natural sports. Animals and humans throughout history have learned that it is best to eat food when it is available, lest it become scarce. Today, food may not be scarce for these competitors, but one fact remains true: no matter who you are, you have to eat. Some just do it faster than others. How many hot dogs can you eat?