It was cheek-to-cheek, jaw-to-jaw, and when the final seconds ticked away, a photo finish revealed a new American champion.
Joey Chestnut, a California graduate student, unseated six-time defending champion Takeru Kobayashi of Japan at the 2007 Nathan's Famous International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest.
On his way, he shattered his own record for hot dog consumption, slogging down 66 weiners in 12 minutes.
Kobayashi, whose jaw condition was questionable in the run up to this year's competition, swallowed 63 hot dogs -- keeping pace with Chestnut but never taking the lead. "I feel like I ate 66 hot dogs," Chestnut said after his win, clutching the Mustard Belt as sweat rested on his brow. "I'm not feeling great but I feel awesome that I won…I thought I'd be feeling worse."
After his momentous loss, Kobayashi proclaimed that he'll be out for blood in 2008. "I will definitely beat him next year," Kobayashi pledged.
For a month now, today's 92nd edition of the world's most-famous celebration of mastication has been looked at with great anticipation, and the event did not disappoint.
Both Chestnut and Kobayashi began the race consuming hot dogs at a blistering clip, and two and half minutes in, each competitor had consumed 23 hot dogs.
As the 14 other competitors faded into the background, the defending champion and the upstart were eating in their finest form. Kobayashi, seemingly permanently hunched over the table, tore his dogs and buns in two and simultaneously shoved both halves into his mouth. To his left, Chestnut put dog after dog straight into his mouth while periodically standing up straight and convulsing his body in apparent pain.
"I was clenching the muscles in my abdomen and putting everything down," Chestnut said after the match, describing his expressive technique.
Chestnut held a two or three dog lead for most of the race, but with 2 minutes left Kobayashi had caught up, and according to the hot dog counter, the two were even at 57 dogs each. With a minute left, the massive crowd, banging their mustard-colored Nathan's noisemakers, knew they were in for a record-breaking day when both Chestnut and Kobayashi ate their 60th wiener respectively, surpassing the record of 59.5 hot dogs the American had set last month.
During the final ten-second countdown both men crammed hot dogs into their mouth, and when the clock struck zero both of their counters read 63 hot dogs.
The match judge was called in to review the counts and there was controversy in the air as for a full minute after the end of the 12-minute race, Kobayashi had yet to swallow all of his final hot dog, and had even spit some out into his hands before putting it back in his mouth, an apparent violation of the competition's rules.
The issue became moot, however, because the judge recount revealed that Chestnut's tally was incorrect: he had in fact eaten 66, not 63 dogs, a full three more than Kobayashi and 6.5 more than the previous record.
"I realized [throughout the race] that they were way off," Chestnut said afterwards of the hot dog counters on stage.
Kobayashi said that his arthritic jaw, the subject of so much ink before today's event, did not hurt him as he scarfed down the dogs. But the pain before the event did impair his training, he said.