Image: Takeru Kobayashi
Seth Wenig  /  AP
Takeru Kobayashi looked early in the competition as if he might lose, but he ended up holding the Mustard Belt for a sixth straight time.
updated 7/4/2006 8:40:34 PM ET 2006-07-05T00:40:34

A 160-pound wonder from Japan set a new record by devouring a sickening 53 3/4 frankfurters in 12 minutes to win the annual Independence Day hot dog eating competition on Coney Island.

The feat earned Takeru Kobayashi, 27, his sixth straight title in the event, held at the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand on Brooklyn’s seashore. His prize: the coveted Yellow Mustard Belt.

Kobayashi broke his own record of 53 1/2 hot dogs, set at the same competition two years ago.

Thousands of raucous spectators jammed the streets in front of the hot dog stand, a block from the famed Coney Island boardwalk, to watch the competition and Kobayashi — a top-ranked eater who once ate 17.7 pounds of pan-seared cow brains to win $25,000.

His strongest competition was Joey Chestnut, a 220-pound civil engineering student from San Jose, Calif., who set a U.S. record by eating 50 hot dogs during a qualifying tournament in Las Vegas.

Chestnut jumped out to an early lead in the competition, sometimes jamming franks into his mouth with two hands as the crowd roared.

But Chestnut struggled, red-faced, with veins bulging in his forehead, as the Japanese star methodically chomped dog after dog, often dipping them in a soft drink before cramming them into his mouth. Kobayashi passed Chestnut with about three minutes left in the contest.

When the clock expired, Chestnut had swallowed 52 Nathan’s franks — not quite enough.

“I hit a wall. I just felt tired,” he told an interviewer from ESPN, which broadcast the competition live.

Kobayashi, his hair dyed yellow like a Nathan’s billboard, vowed through a translator to return next year to conquer even more hot dogs than he did this time.

Among the competitors were another favorite, 100-pound Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, of Alexandria, Va., who once ate 65 hard boiled eggs in a little more than 6 1/2 minutes, and a local favorite, Eric “Badlands” Booker, a 425-pound subway conductor from Long Island who holds speed-eating records for pies and matzo balls.

First-time competitor Erik “The Red” Denmark, 28, of Seattle, who downed 22 hot dogs, said he was happy just to be there.

“It’s like making it to the World Cup,” said Denmark, who can boast of having eating 98 jalapenos in 15 minutes.

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