I said I wasn't going to go out to Coney Island to watch the hot dog eating contest, but there I was, standing just off of Surf Avenue at 10:00 a.m. yesterday, over two hours early for one of the most exciting sporting events — if we can call it that — I've ever seen. As you now certainly know, Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi squared off in the greatest hot dog eating contest ever, with both men breaking the established record, but with Chestnut winning with 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. In person, it was absolutely thrilling to watch. Two men haven't pushed each other to such feats since 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa raced each other to inject more steroids than baseball fans had ever seen.
What everyone needs to know is that the ESPN telecast above is absolute shit compared to the live experience. George Shea, the head of IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating), emcees the event — he's the guy in the straw hat behind the eaters — and he combines a passion for competitive eating with an old-time huckster's approach to comedy and storytelling (see him at work here). The ESPN announcers don't tell you that "we've arrived at this moment by the unswerving punctuality of chance," and they sure as hell don't tell you that the eaters are "competing in an arena of emotion."
Anyway, I'm not sold on competitive eating as a "sport" in the traditional sense, but as a spectator event, nothing beats the excitement of the Nathan's hot dog eating contest. Unless you've got ten grand riding on a dog fight. Hoo, now that's LIVING.