Saying he was "feeling pretty rough, but feeling like a winner," Joey Chestnut had a "whole lot of nothing" for breakfast the day after winning his fifth straight Nathan’s Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York.
The 27-year-old from San Jose, who won $10,000 and the Mustard Belt for consuming 62 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, told me he considers himself an athlete.
"Although there’s nothing pretty about competitive eating, it is a competition," Chestnut said. "If you’re narrow-minded, you won’t look at me as an athlete. But when people see how hard we’re pushing each other, there’s no way to deny it."
The ancient Greeks gave us the Olympics and the legendary motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" — faster, higher, stronger. Modern day America celebrates its birthday with "Citius Gluttonous," a nationally televised pig-out masquerading as a sport.
Then again, if one considers any competition that involves sweating to be a sport, there’s no doubt Monday’s Major League Eating event qualifies. Watching contestants feverishly shove fistfuls of frankfurters into their mouths may be disgusting, but they sure do it with gusto.
Chestnut’s kid brother, who six years ago encouraged Joey to pursue a career in competitive eating, acts as cheerleader and coach, keeping him informed of how many hot dogs his rivals have consumed. Team Chestnut is on a roll.
OK, so if Joey is an athlete, is he also a role model?
"Not really for eating," Chestnut said. "But people are inspired because I set out to accomplish a goal and I accomplish it. I get letters from around the world from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and from school kids. I lucked out. I found my calling. I’m just having fun. I’m happy."
Despite health warnings from the American Medical Association, competitive eating has developed a cult following and is traditionally the most-watched Independence Day program on ESPN.
Chestnut trains by running and drinking gallons of water and milk, then fasts for three days prior to competition. He earned over $200,000 last year in winning an assortment of competitive eating events and hopes to make it seven straight wins at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest before retiring. He also holds world records for speed eating pork ribs (9.8 pounds), steak (4.5 pounds), chicken wings (241), hamburgers (103), grilled cheese sandwiches (47) macaroni and cheese (10.5 pounds).
Next up for the chomp champ? In two weeks, Chestnut is headed to Puerto Rico for a taco eating contest.
"Taco Bell’s soft tacos are delicious, they go down like butter," Chestnut said.
Great. With a billion starving people on the planet and millions of Americans battling obesity, we celebrate our country’s birthday by giving a national forum to speed gluttony. Quick, get me to the vomitorium.
KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.