NEW YORK (AFP) — American Joey "Jaws" Chestnut will defend his crown as the world's fastest hot-dog eater on Friday against former champion Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi of Japan in an Independence Day showdown at Coney Island.
Kobayashi, 30, holds the world record for eating 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
However, this year organizers have brought the time of the contest down to 10 minutes, the same as the first event held in 1916.
The hot-dog eating contest is held each year on the Fourth of July -- US independence day -- at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, one of New York city's five boroughs.
Contestants must eat the largest number of hot dogs, buns included, in the allotted time frame without vomiting. They must wash the dogs down with water, and the bread can be eaten separately.
"I say to all of you, without picking favorites and without showing which contestant secretly I hope will win: good luck, and may the best stomach not throw up!" Mayor Michael Bloomberg quipped in a ceremony introducing the 21 contestants in front of New York City Hall.
Since 2001, when Kobayashi shattered the world record by gorging on 50 hot dogs, the tournament has become a showcase of friendly US-Japanese rivalry.
Kobayashi held on to the title until 2007 when he suffered jaw problems ahead of the tournament. He lost that year to Chestnut, a 24-year-old college student from San Jose, California.
Nevertheless, "six-time world champion Kobayashi cannot be simply counted out -- the "Japanese Tsunami" is reportedly feeling fine and as flexible as ever," said Bloomberg.
Kobayashi, who has dyed his hair mustard-yellow and ketchup-red for the bout, seemed relaxed and confident.
"I don't know exactly how many I will be able to eat, but definitely at least 60," he told reporters.
Each contestant has their own technique: Kobayashi inaugurated the "Solomon" system in which he splits the hot dogs in two then eats both parts together, often dipped in water.
According to Coney Island lore, the first contest was held in 1916, when four immigrants decided they would determine who was the most American among them by seeing who could eat the most hot dogs.
The winner was James Mullen of Ireland, who ate 13 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
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