Annual hot dog contest to be held on Coney Island

CONEY ISLAND - He's suddenly the hot dog underdog. World renowned competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi is aiming tochomp his way back to the top of the annual Fourth of July hot dogeating competition on Coney Island after a disappointing three-dogloss last year shattered his six-year winning streak. And this year it's going to be even harder - organizers said twofull minutes would be shaved from regulation time after it wasrecently revealed that the original competition in 1916 was just 10minutes long, instead of the 12-minute limit used in more recentyears. Richard Shea, one of the founders of the InternationalFederation of Competitive Eating, said organizers of the ConeyIsland showdown discovered the timing discrepancy in a pamphletfrom around the time of the earliest contest. Eaters will now have 10 minutes, like their frankfurterforefathers, in order to "restore the contest to its originallength and maintain its integrity," Shea said. The diminutive 30-year-old Kobayashi - a legend on thesurprisingly serious competitive eating circuit - managed to scarf63 dogs and buns in 12 minutes last year, three fewer than youngup-and-comer Joey Chestnut, a 24-year-old Californian who outweighshim by more than 80 pounds. It was a devastating defeat for Kobayashi, of Nagano, Japan. Hehad ruled the Coney Island frank fight every year since 2001. Shea said there was some grumbling among the competitors aboutthe shorter time limit, but said the veteran eaters may still beable to consume the same number of hot dogs, or even more, thanwhen they had more time. After organizers studied tapes of last year's competition andclosely watched the qualifying rounds for this year, they concludedthat most participants taper their eating as time ticks by, chokingdown a greater percentage of dogs in the first seven or eightminutes than in the final moments of competition. Thus, they may be able to reach the same records that were setin 12-minute competitions, Shea said. Last year Kobayashi was suffering some physical ailments,including a tooth problem and a sore jaw, which may have hamperedhis performance. This time, he "can simply not be counted out," Mayor MichaelBloomberg said at a pre-competition rally and weigh-in on Thursday. Weighing in at 128 pounds and dressed in basketball shorts, aT-shirt and flip-flops, Kobayashi posed for pictures while flexinghis muscles and holding up a hot dog and bun. Chestnut, the 2007 champ, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt,followed him to the scale, topping out at 210 pounds. The two foes are among 21 competitors in Friday's showdown,including a pizza cook from New York City, a fishmonger fromChicago and a 110-pound mother of two from Maryland.

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