July 3, 2006

Kobayashi can eat 53 1/2 hot dogs in 13.45 seconds

Monday, July 3, 2006 at 17:26 EDT

NEW YORK — Contestants are gearing up again in New York for the annual July 4 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island with Japan's Takeru Kobayashi once again favored to retain his title for the 6th consecutive year.

This year's contest has become a major betting event, according to sports betting giants Pinnacle Sports and BETonSPORTS.com.

"Online sportsbooks offer odds on all major televised events," said Roberto Castiglioni, founder of TheOnlineWire.com.

"When people discuss individual dominance in sports they usually mention Lance Armstrong's seven Tour de France titles or Tiger Woods 10 major championships, but Kobayashi's consecutive win streak at Coney Island is equally impressive," said Simon Noble of PinnacleSports.com in an article published on TheOnlineWire.com.

At 5 feet 7 and 144 pounds, Kobayashi doesn't look like a master gulper. But he has devoured the competition: Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, the world's premier female competitive eater; Eric "Badlands" Booker, the 6-foot-4, 400-pound subway conductor; even William "The Refrigerator" Perry, the ex-NFL star who managed to suck down an embarrassing four hot dogs in his Nathan's debut.

Kobayashi remains overwhelming favorite to win his sixth straight mustard yellow belt, but will be seriously challenged by Joey Chestnut, said Castiglioni.

Chestnut, who finished third last year, said he feels the pressure. "Everybody knows that the Americans get beat by this little Japanese man," Chestnut said. "A victory for me would be to even get close. He never lets an American get close."

"Kobayashi came over in 2001, doubled the record, and since them no one has been close," said International Federation of Competitive Eating Chairman George Shea.

But Shea says this could be the year someone steps up and finishes more franks in 12 minutes than the champ. Besides Chestnut, top challengers once again include Thomas, Booker and Long Islander Ed "Cookie" Jarvis.

But there's no questioning Kobayashi's credentials. He remains the Nathan's hot-dog record holder, with 53 1/2 franks on July 4, 2004 — one frank every 13.45 seconds.

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