New York may have missed out on the 2012 Olympics, but no one can ever say this city doesn’t know how to stage a world-championship. This afternoon, at City Hall Park, Mayor Michael Bloomberg presided over the weigh-in for tomorrow’s internationally famous Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest.
Bloomberg, grinning ear-to-ear, sounded distinctly presidential as he gave an oration on the subject of cherished American values. “Now, Independence Day is a wonderful time to celebrate our freedoms: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the mayor said. “The right to eat as many hotdogs as possible, although not named in the Bill of Rights, was no doubt on the minds of the framers, too.”
Then he chowed down on a mustard-slathered hot dog of his own.
In past years, the Nathan’s contest has contained all the drama of a presidential election in Turkmenistan. Such has been the domination of the six-time champion, Takeru Kobayashi. But this year, the weigh-in had a genuine subplot: the emergence of a true rival to the Japanese superglutton. As Kobayashi has been hobbled with a case of “jawthritis,” worsened by the pain surrounding the removal of a wisdom tooth two weeks ago, American Joey Chestnut has come on strong, breaking the world record by devouring 59-and-a-half dogs in twelve minutes at a regional qualifier last month.
At the weigh-in, World Commissioner of Competitive Eating—and publicity man extraordinaire—George Shea, described Chestnut as the “Paris Hilton of hotdogs.” (A metaphor we are not even going to touch.) Kobayashi, meanwhile, opened his mouth for reporters. The whiskered world champion’s lips parted no more than half an inch, and they quivered as he posed. Dozens of reporters encouraged participants to growl, show off their chests and flash one another glimpses of anger. A giant hotdog danced nearby. At one point, it embraced Bloomberg, much to the mayor’s apparent surprise.
After all that he has done for the sport of competitive eating, one would expect that the possibility of a Bloomberg presidency would whet these champions’ appetites. But they resisted all entreaties to enter the political fray. Chestnut said it was too early, but conceded that Bloomberg was “interesting.”
Kobayashi, for his part, was just focused on the challenge tomorrow.
“I’m not sure,” he said of the 2008 presidential race, through his translator. “I don’t follow politics.”