The 113-pound Kobayashi had led the pack early in the contest, downing 23 in the first four minutes alone. At the halfway point, he had eaten 35, but from there started to slow down. Later he told reporters that he had been effected by the 96-degree temperatures that, combined with a blazing afternoon sun and high humidity, added up to a heat index of 105 degrees on the Coney Island boardwalk.
I dont do well in humidity, a clearly exhausted Kobayashi said after the contest, wiping the sweat from his brow. He vowed that if he decides to come back next year, hell eat 60.
Kobayashi, 24, from Nagano, Japan, defeated 19 other competitors from around the world including Thailand, Germany and Brooklyn, N.Y.
Booker, a 410-pound champion burrito eater from Long Island, was considered Americas best hope to reclaim the coveted Mustard Yellow Belt trophy, which has ended up in Japan for most of the past 10 years.
Booker said that despite the controversy, he still admired Kobayashis eating prowess. Hes just a great athlete in this sport, Booker gushed.
Oleg Zhornitskiy, of Brooklyn, took third place with 25 1/2 franks and buns.
Despite the extreme heat, the event drew a hoard of media and what many say was the largest crowd in recent years, with an estimated 1,000-plus spectators. The contest was outside of the original Nathans hot dog stand in Coney Island, Brooklyn, as it has been every year since 1916.
Noticeably absent were the usual throngs of Japanese media. In Japan eating competitions, once very popular, have been on a decline lately after a recent incident in which a 14-year-old choked to death in his school cafeteria while trying to speed eat. The New York bureau chief of a major Japanese TV network, who opted not to cover the event, said that fears of a Fourth terrorist incident in Manhattan made most news bureaus hesitant to send reporters and crews out to Brooklyn, where they might have gotten stranded if transportation systems were shut down, as they were on Sept. 11.
But most spectators tourists as well as ordinary New Yorkers didnt seem to have such heavy concerns as they cheered loudly for their favorite gustatory gladiators.
A group of firefighters from the local firehouse sat atop their truck parked down the street watching the action with binoculars.
We come out here every year. This is my ninth one, said Robert Dwyer, a veteran firefighter with Ladder 166. Keith Moran, a probationary firefighter who was attending the contest for the first time, shook his head in amazement. These Japanese are great at this, he said.
Others in the crowd were equally awe-struck.
That was disgusting, said Jun Yamada, a student at Baruch College, as he stood inside Nathans enjoying a soft drink just after the contest. But it was fun to watch, he added with a grin.
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