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Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK

World: Americas

Hot dog contest leaves sour taste

Competitors chew the fat - but this year's event was fiercer than ever

Controversy is mounting over the annual Coney Island hot dog eating contest - one of America's 4th of July institutions - with the runner-up demanding a re-match.

[ image:  ]
Steve Keiner says he won the coveted yellow-mustard belt fair and square by eating 20 and a quarter hot dogs in 12 minutes.

But runner-up Charles "Hungry" Hardy - who came second by a quarter of a hot dog - is crying foul.

He says a slow-motion video replay shows that the champion cheated by beginning to eat a fraction of a second before the starting gun was fired.

[ image: Steve Keiner: biting off more than he should chew?]
Steve Keiner: biting off more than he should chew?
A judge admitted that Mr Keiner did seem to jump the gun but added that the rules of the contest do not allow for action replays, hard as contestants may find that to swallow.

In third place came last year's winner, Japanese noodle-eating champion Hirofumi "Tokyo Terror" Nakajima.

Despite his comparatively diminutive weight of 135 pounds, he managed to down 19 hot dogs in 12 minutes - a performance which was deemed to be below par.

Rival competitor Eddie "The Animal" Krachie accused the furniture removal man from Kofu of using muscle relaxants in order to swallow quicker.

[ image: The diminutive
The diminutive "Tokyo Terror" is a former champ
Nakajima denied the accusation, saying that all he did was to eat more as the competition approached, in order to stretch his stomach. His prize was 20lbs of hot dogs.

The eating contest has been held in Brooklyn's Coney Island every fourth of July since 1916 as a publicity stunt for Nathan's Famous hot dogs, which opened at the Atlantic Ocean amusement park that year.

Last year, the National Hot Dog Council estimated that Americans ate 88 million hot dogs on Independence Day.

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