August 4, 2005
by Chris Feeney
A few years ago poker took the “sporting” world by storm as ESPN television started airing the World Series of Poker. Today the sport is enormous, as you can hardly go anywhere without seeing something poker related.
Well, this weekend I stumbled across what may be the next great “sport” craze. I was channel surfing when I came across the U.S. Open. No, it wasn’t the famous golf tournament. This was the Alka-Seltzer U.S. Open of Pro Eating.
We’ve all seen the old fashion pie-eating contests that used to be held at county fairs and the like. Then a few years ago the hot dog eating contest began to catch a little bit of national attention. Especially when the sport’s most famous name Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, started breaking the 50-hot dog mark in the 12-minute, Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Kobayashi definitely is the poster boy for the International Federation of Competitive Eating. One might expect him to resemble a sumo wrestler, but the man more resembles a lightweight boxer, as he is 130 pounds and quite muscular.
But he’s not the sport’s only star. There is Tim Janus, known as Eater X, who won the rookie of the year honors in the eating circuit. He comes to the competition table sporting a KISS-like face of makeup that resembles something one would see at a professional wrestling match.
Eating is an equal-opportunity sport. Just ask the Black Widow, Sonya Thomas, who earned her nickname because she devours so many male competitors, earning her the sport’s number two ranking.
How about the husband-wife duo of Richard and Carlene LeFevre. Richard is ranked third in the IFCE.
Dale Boone, is the sport’s bad boy, as he wastes some of his mouth power talking trash and taunting his opponents.
You might expect this sport is dominated by large, overweight folks. But some of the top eaters actually are quite athletic, including several weight lifters, a baseball pitcher and even a tri-athlete.
I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit as I watched this. The show resembled a satire, as it featured so many of the little specialty sports items we see when we watch Monday Night Football and the NBA Finals.
How about that chew cam, which is a little mirror attached to the bill of each competitor’s cap, allowing the rear camera to zoom in on the eater’s mouth for another angle on the action.
Then there are the commentators, who are spouting out gibberish about “amazing form”, different eating techniques, “the sport’s rising star”… You can’t help but laugh a bit when the broadcasters praise the winner for effective eating and star potential.
Here is the premise. There are 32 competitors in a single elimination bracket featuring five different food rounds. The contest started with a race to see who can eat the most cheese fries in five minutes. It is a head-to-head contest, with two eaters working to move on to the second round.
Spaghetti separates the field from 16 down to eight as they race to down the most pasta in 14 minutes. Rich LeFevre (another 130-pound speed eater) actually set a new-world record, eating nine pounds of pasta in the 14 minutes. Kobayashi obliterated that mark, swallowing 13 pounds of pasta on his way to being crowned the champion and pocketing the $10,000 first prize. A total of $40,000 in prize money was on the line in the event, which will re-air on ESPN and ESPN2.
I missed day two and three of the program, so I’m not sure what foods the winner had to devour en route to his win.
At first, I thought maybe I had finally found the professional sport in which I could excel. I’m an eater – you put food in front of me and I clean my plate. If I get another plate before I can stop and realize that I’m full, well I’ll clean it too. But after watching the program, I came back to earth. We all have our own illusions of grandeur, but when I saw these folks swallowing all that food in so little time, I realized I was way out of my league. But maybe eating will catch on like poker, and little amateur events will start popping up giving us weekend warriors a chance to compete against other locals. I bet I could give somebody a run for their money in the first annual Catfish Consume-it-All in Arbela or the Scoops Ice Cream Swallow.