The Nathan's Famous hot dog competition is frankly competitive
Almost everyone expects Joey Chestnut, 29, the world's most successful champion eater ever, to sweep the 98th Annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest on Thursday.
Chestnut holds the world record for gobbling 68 Nathan's Famous dogs in 10 minutes (he's done that twice) and is seeking his seventh title on Coney Island.
But in addition to nine contestants in the women's competition (in which a slim Sonya Thomas, who can devour 45 hot dogs in 10 minutes, is favored), there are 14 men trying to crack the streak held by Chestnut, who lives in San Jose, Calif., and trains by stretching out his stomach with water, milk and protein supplements.
Among them is Tim Janus, 36, who is internationally acclaimed as one of the top hot dog, wonton, burrito, poutine, Ramen noodle, Nigiri sushi, cannoli, fried pork rind and tiramisu eaters in the world. Janus took second place in the Nathan's contest last year and is ranked No. 2 worldwide in all competitive consumption, according to Major League Eating.
Janus will not be psyching Chestnut into a case of acid indigestion with fork-rattling trash talk.
"I can't stand smack talk," said Janus, a Harlem resident who goes by the name "Eater X."
Instead, he is focusing on being kind to his body and getting in that Zen place to be ready for Thursday's "Masters tournament of competitive eating."
The Nathan's event, said Janus, "is the best contest we've got. You have the best eaters in the world giving their best effort" for a $20,000 prize.
By the time he was 7 years old, Janus established a "personal record" of eating six slices of pizza at a time.
A lot of guys think they can eat competitively but stuffing yourself at great speeds with obscene amounts of hot dogs -- or anything, really -- requires a particular mental will and incredible physical stamina. "Your stomach and your ribs and your abs all have to cooperate" so you don't vomit, as Janus explained.
Janus stumbled into competitive eating some years ago, right about the time he wanted to get out of day trading, which became "really rough."
Even though he is one of the top two male eaters in the world, he also works as a waiter/bartender because the purses in competitive eating are not the equivalent of those in, say, professional boxing.
"Only Joey Chestnut can make a living at it," Janus explained. "There's a real steep drop-off for the rest of us."
Janus and his peers all suffer to be great.
After the contest, "you're very tired and not very comfortable. You spend a lot of time wishing that maybe you hadn't eaten so many hot dogs," said Janus.
The 98th Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest airs at noon Thursday on ESPN2 and again at 1 p.m. on ESPN.