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As many hot dogs as you can eat in 12 minutes. That's the challenge contestants will be facing in Coney Island's world-famous hot dog-eating contest on Tuesday. But what are the best tactics?
Kobayashi is reigning champion
Independence Day in the United States is marked in many ways, but on one street corner in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, it all comes down to hot dogs and the coveted "Mustard Yellow International Belt".
It is on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenue that the world-famous hot dog eating contest is held every 4 July. The event is hosted by Nathan's Famous Corporation at the site of their first restaurant.
The event is believed to have started in 1916 when four immigrants had a hot dog-eating contest on the street corner to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic.
After 12 minutes, Irish-born Jim Mullen had eaten 13 hot dogs and the other three contestants could not go on, hence the time limit of the contest.
The winner for the last five years has been Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi from Japan, who holds the world record for speed-eating 53.5 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He also holds the world record for eating 57 cow brains in 15 minutes.
Another big player in the world of competitive eating is Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas. The Korean-American, who weighs just seven stone, currently holds over 25 world records for speed-eating. These include: 161 buffalo wings in 12 minutes, 80 chicken nuggets in 5 minutes and 65 hard-boiled eggs in 6 minutes, 40 seconds.
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But how do you speed eat? As a champion "gurgitator" - as they are known in the world of speed-eating - Mr Kobayashi expands his stomach for a competition by gradually eating larger and larger amounts of food in the weeks before the event. He then exercises to ensure that fat will not impede expansion of his stomach during a competition.
To rest his stomach ahead of a contest, he skips dinner and breakfast the day before. He once starved himself for three days ahead of a competition.
He is also known for his trademark body wiggle, known as "The Kobayashi Shake". He uses it to force food down his oesophagus and settle more compactly in his stomach.
He eats the hot dogs by splitting the frankfurter in half, swallowing both parts at once. He tightly squeezes them before eating and sips lots of water to soften the buns. He calls this the Solomon method.
He also does weight training throughout the year to increase his metabolism. The training is used to prevent excess calories from being stored as fat, as the "band of fat theory" suggests larger eaters struggle to expand their stomachs because they are constrained by the fat.
Ms Thomas puts her success down to "hand speed and hand-eye coordination", as well as chewing and swallowing fast. She eats with one hand, using the other to take sips from a bottle to ensure food doesn't get stuck in the throat. A true professional, she also watches video footage of her challengers' performances to better understand their tactics.
While there are no studies showing proven dangers, doctors have warned of the potential risks of speed eating.
The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) says that speed eating is only suitable for those 18 years of age or older and only in a controlled environment with appropriate rules and with an emergency medical technician present. It is also against at-home training of any kind, especially on your own.
Interesting. Everyone seems surprised that Ms. Thomas weighs so little, but after reading this article, it makes more sense. I guess they have to be very dedicated to train for their goal, and it's no more pointless than football or track running, but it's still a great waste of food.
This reminds me of the classic pie eating contest in the film 'Stand by Me'. What a tragedy it would be to see such finely tuned athletes vomiting en masse like the competitors in the film.
Alice Granbee, Norwich
I can run to a buffet in 5 seconds flat! Does this count as speed eating?
Craig, London, UK
Veronica Boyd, Westtown, NY
Eating competitiions are grotesque gluttony in an age that still sees tens of thousands die each day from hunger.
There are enough overweight, inactive and unhealthy people in the world, and these competitions always seem to be sponsored by food manufacturers, the sole purpose being to promote their unhealthy product. These 'competitions' are ridiculous and worthless events.
Remind me: how many people have died of starvation across the world so far in 2006?
G Andrew Holmes, Norwich, Norfolk
A bulemic contest of conspicuous consumption devoid entirely of merit.
How can this kind of behaviour be considered anything other than irresponsible? Especially in a nation of obesity and diet-related disease - not forgetting the psychological problems of anorexia, bulemia and others. What kind of message does this send out?
Set this against the backdrop of hunger found in so many countries and you have a very misguided contest. That there is an International Federation for such a thing is even more incredible.
Binge-eating as a competitive sport? Don't make me laugh.