At the venerable Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, this past July 4th, competitive eater Joey “Jaws” Chestnut set a new record in his chosen sport — 75 hotdogs consumed in ten minutes.
A team of sports medicine specialists have taken a closer look at Chestnut’s results with a key question in mind. That a very regular-looking human (his jaw doesn’t even unhinge!) can put away over six dozen tubes of processed meat at a rate of one dog every eight seconds is subjectively stunning; but how close is this feat to the objective upper limit of the sport? In short, is Joey Chestnut, in the words of study author James Smoglia, the “Usain Bolt” of hotdog-eating?
Turns out, he is. Smoglia’s team analyzed data from 39 years of the historic sausage gauntlet, using predictive mathematical modelling they usually applied to improvements in more traditional sports.
“Improvement curves in elite sports ranging from sprinting to pole vaulting tend to follow a so-called sigmoidal curve, featuring an initial slow and steady rise, followed by an era of rapid improvement and finally a levelling off. ‘Hotdog eating has definitely reached that second plateau,’ said Smoliga.”
After an early period where contestants relied on natural talent and how their stomachs were feeling the day of competition,
“[elite] eaters started to follow elaborate training regimes, with some ingesting vast volumes of liquid or gels to expand the stomach without having to process the calories. Chestnut, this year’s winner, claims to train for three months leading up to the competition, including weekly practice runs, a carefully controlled diet and yoga and breathing exercises to help with mental focus.”
This victory seems proof that really any action can be turned into a sport if training goes into it. But, like any other sport, there is a physiological limit to hotdog eating: by fitting the hotdog data to the rest of the sigmoidal curve, Smoglia and team predict that 84 hotdogs in ten minutes are the most any typical competitor can hope to eat, even with high-level training. Which makes “Jaws” Chestnut elite indeed!
While the condiment connoisseur in me winces at one of the best-loved barbecue options being relegated to so much world-record-fodder, I salute Mr Chestnut and his feat. I hope he gets the opportunity to sit down this summer next to a sizzling barbecue and enjoy a hotdog the way the grill gods intended — slowly savoured with a favourite topping or two. As I hope we all can!