Date Posted: September 19, 2011
Print Edition: September 14, 2011
Many times a sport can cause one to ask, ‘Is that really a sport?’ For me, it often comes down to one simple question; can you do it with a beer in one hand? Usually if alcohol is being consumed by the “athletes”, there is more spectating than sporting going on. That said, there are some sports that defy my attempt at a definition: golf, bowling, poker (still don’t think it’s a sport) and my favourite, competitive eating.
Competitive eating is quite simple: whoever eats the most, in a given time frame, wins. There are, however, some complexities to the sport. Yes. It is a sport. I defy you to eat 9.17 lbs of blueberry pie, hands free, in eight minutes like Patrick Bertoletti did on July 28, 2007. Or how about 11 lbs of cheesecake in nine minutes, like Sonya Thomas did on September 26, 2004. Or 65 hard boiled eggs in six minutes, 40 seconds. Or 47 grilled cheese sandwiches in 10 minutes. And finally my favourite, how about you try eating 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, like Joey Chestnut did on July 4, 2009.
Clearly, competitive eating takes skill, determination and a certain degree of craziness. Although the sport requires preparation and practice, the International Federation of Competitive Eating “strongly opposes and discourages home training of any kind.” This is likely for legal reasons. In order to train for the sport, many strange and dangerous techniques are used. Through preparation, athletes aim to increase their stomach capacity and eating speed. Competitors often train by consuming large amounts of water in a short period of time. This technique, although effective, is dangerous. Former competitive eater, Ed Jarvis, prepared for competition by eating entire heads of boiled cabbage and by consuming litres of water at a time. Less dangerously, many exercise their jaw muscles by chewing gum.
After months of stomach stretching preparation, Major League Eaters put it all on the line. Most events are over within minutes and all that lay between the athlete and international fame and glory is a large pile of food: hot dogs, cake, grilled cheese, and chicken wings, to name a few.
During those few moments of intense competition, Major League Eaters use a few eating techniques. The “water dunk” is probably most common. Competitors simply dunk their food, a hot dog for example, into a glass of water. The water softens the food, making it easier to chew and it also lubricates the food, allowing for easier swallowing. Another technique, invented by famous eater, Takeru Kobayashi, is referred to as “the Solomon.” In order to do “the Solomon,” the competitor simply breaks the hot dog in half and jams both pieces into their mouth at once. This technique allows more food to fit in the mouth at once, and dramatically increases speed.
All that said, most of the challenge of competitive eating is mental. Speaking with howstuffworks.com (a great website, by the way), competitive eater Eric Livingston spoke of the mental challenges that the sport involves and some of the misconceptions surrounding the sport: “Ironically, CE is mostly mental. You must have the discipline to regulate your calorie consumption in the days/weeks before and after a contest. Some people call CE gluttony, but Gluttony is the complete lack of discipline. This is highly controlled and is the opposite. Getting fat is no fun.”
Well, it is a sport. And you too can compete, if you’re up to the challenge.