Six-time champ Takeru Kobayashi may be out of the July 4th contest

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 27, 2007 11:25 AM

Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, the hot-dog eating champ of New York City’s Coney Island, may be out of commission for next week’s annual July 4th contest.

The six-time winner, 29 (and, despite his yearly high-fat and sodium and carbohydrate gorge, a svelte 165 lbs.), has been diagnosed with arthritis of the jaw, he writes ruefully on his Web site, where he says: “My jaw refused to fight anymore … [it] has abandoned the frontline.”

According to Kobayashi’s message, “Already I can’t open my jaws more than just a little bit. 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.”

His situation puts a big question mark over whether he’ll be able to compete to claim his seventh straight Yellow Mustard Belt next Wednesday, in the Independence Day contest sponsored by Nathan’s Famous hot dogs. Last year Kobayashi – nicknamed “Tsunami” – won after devouring a then-world record of 53.75 wieners in 12 minutes.

“To tell the truth, I’m desperate about healing completely before the July 4 contest,” says Kobayashi, adding that he’s already sought treatment from a chiropractor.

Relief is not only at stake here, but pride. Earlier this month in Tempe, Ariz., Joey Chestnut, 23, of San Jose, Calif., beat Kobayashi’s world record in a Coney qualifying event, the Southwest Regional Hot Dog Eating Championship at the Arizona Mills Mall, by eating 59.5 hot dogs in 12 minutes, the Associated Press reports.

Perhaps Kobayashi saw this day coming, as his blog also includes some harsh self-criticism. “I feel so ashamed that I didn’t hear the alarm bells ringing in my own body,” it says. “But with the aim of winning the title and setting a new record in my head, I couldn’t stop my training regime so close to the competition.”

He also blames himself for training so hard, including his diet of large quantities of cabbage and water to stretch his stomach – and which, he also says, rendered his mouth all but paralyzed.