He came, he saw, he very nearly chundered. Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, a 26-year-old Californian with a famously-ferocious appetite, confirmed his standing as the world's greatest professional eater when he won America's most prestigious hot dog eating contest for the fourth consecutive time.
The former engineering student – who weighs a mere 16 stone – consumed 54 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win the 95th annual event, held at Coney Island every Fourth of July. His victory was relatively easy: his nearest rival for the $20,000 (£13,000) in prize money and mustard-yellow victor's belt was Tim "Eater X" Janus, who managed just 45 sausages.
The champion was nonetheless mildly disappointed at the result, having hoped to break his previous personal best of 68 and claim a new world record. "To be honest, the heat affected me," he said. "I stopped drinking water to relax my stomach several hours before the event, so I was a little bit dehydrated."
The Coney Island event, which began in 1916 and is still sponsored by its original sausage company Nathan's, has become a staple part of the star-spangled excess with which America celebrates its independence from Great Britain. The contest draws crowds of 30,000, is broadcast live on ESPN, and syndicated to over a dozen countries.
Americans enjoy 150 million hot dogs each 4 July, which according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council is enough to stretch from Washington DC to Los Angelese more than five times. Few probably eat them as Mr Chestnut does, however. He has perfected the "garbage bag" style of hot dog eating, in which he crams two sausages into his mouth, before dipping the buns in water and swallowing them separately.
The Californian is one of dozens of men and women who now make a living on the competitive eating circuit. He holds several records, including the largest amounts of pork (4.4kg) and deep-fried asparagus (3.9kg) in 12 minutes.
Creeping professionalism comes at a price, though. The run up to this year's contest was marred by the withdrawal of Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi – a Japanese pro-eater who has won taken the title a record six times.
Mr Kobayashi, currently third in the world rankings, has refused to sign terms with Major League Eating, the governing body of the Coney Island contest and a string of other US events, saying he also wants to be free to compete in contests sanctioned by other organisers. Signing the required exclusive deal with MLE would have "severely limited the ability to eat and eating behavior itself", he said.
Mr Kobayashi, who is the sport's equivalent to Roger Federer, was nonetheless spotted in the crowd.
Mr Chestnut later said his Japanese rival would have taken part "if he was a real man", prompting "the Tsunam" to lose his temper and storm the stage.
Police officers arrived on the scene within seconds and arrested him.Reuse content