Joey "Jaws" Chesnut, the five-time defending champion of the Nathan's July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest, will be competing for his sixth straight title tomorrow. With a victory, he would tie the legendary Takeru Kobayashi, the man who arguably put the "sport" of competitive eating on the map.
Eating franks. Competitive eaters have turned the activity into a Ford-esque assembly line, chomping down buns and weiners at the rate of a hyperventillating robot. Chesnut, who once downed 68 hot dogs in twelve minutes, has become the undisputed master of the craft. Yet is hot dog eating simply a craft, or is it more than that? After all, it is televised on ESPN.
Sports, as a whole, share a number of universal qualities--physical exertion, eventual exhaustion, athleticism, fundamentals, and a rare sort of competitive drive. With that, there is often a certain physical superiorty that has come to be associated with most sports. Basketball has tall people, football has huge people, and baseball has people with robotic arms, and hockey has people who don't care about their teeth. By this definition, competitive eating does require a certain physical build--an endless stomach, which needs to be trained properly.
Over the past few years Chesnut has clearly maintained, developed and improved upon his skill set. If he was considered an athlete, today would be jam-packed with SportsCenter roundtable discussions on what a victory tomorrow would mean for Chestnut's legacy. Regarding this subject, journalist Sam Spiegelman had some pretty solid insight.
A sixth championship belt would tie Chestnut with NBA great Michael Jordan in terms of championship lore. Jordan set the standard for greatness in basketball with six championship rings. And No. 6 would mean a place for Chestnut alongside Jordan as one of the GOATs -- the greatest of all time -- in his craft.
If the question is what would a Chestnut victory tomorrow mean, I'm not sure if that's an answer one person could objectively give. Athlete or not, Chestnut is a perhaps the only American figure of his kind. His ferocity and drive certainly mirror those of an athlete, even though he may not play a sport.
That said, this is not necessarily a conversation about sports. It's a conversation about greatness. It's a conversation about being so much f*cking better than everyone else that it's plain scary. About pushing boundaries in a frighteningly uncompromising fashion, confirming that in this particular case, rules don't apply. And neither do surprises, because greatness belies the notion of impossibility.
Chestnut needs to be appreciated for what he's done, and what he'll continue to do in the future. Because any way you look at it--sport or no sport--what he's doing is really f*cking incredible.
[H/T: The Daily Times]