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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 June 2007, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Japan speed-eater's jaw arthritis
Takeru Kobayashi wins the hot dog eating championship in 2003.
Kobayashi still hopes to defend his speed-eating title

A Japanese speed-eating champion's title could be at risk because he is suffering from an arthritic jaw.

Takeru Kobayashi, 29, had been aiming for a seventh consecutive win at the annual 4 July US hot dog eating competition on Coney Island, Brooklyn.

But this week Kobayashi, dubbed "Tsunami", said he was in so much pain he could barely open his mouth.

The champion, who only weighs 11st 11lb (75kg), last year ate a then record 53.75 frankfurters in 12 minutes.

But Kobayashi's hopes of defending his coveted Yellow Mustard Belt at Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest next month now look in doubt.

There's no pain only if I open my mouth about enough for one finger
Takeru Kobayashi

Earlier this week, he said on his website that his "jaw has abandoned the frontline" during his training for this year's event.

"Already I can't open my jaws more than just a little bit," he wrote. "There's no pain only if I open my mouth about enough for one finger. More than that is painful and I can't open it."

A specialist had diagnosed him with arthritis of the jaw, said Kobayashi, from Nagoya in Japan.

"To tell the truth, I'm desperate about healing completely before the 4 July contest," he said, adding that he had begun receiving treatment at a hospital and from a chiropractor.

On Tuesday, his United Food Fighter Organisation said on its website that Mr Kobayashi had found a good doctor and was "creating an environment in which he can dedicate himself to healing".

"The contest is coming up soon, and we'd happy if everyone kept him in their thoughts," the group wrote.

Earlier this month, a Californian man shattered Kobayashi's hot dog eating record by consuming 59-and-a-half frankfurters in 12 minutes.

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