Kobayashi May Skip Coney Island

Organizers of the world's most famous hot dog eating contest are denying a Japanese report that competitive-eating sensation Takeru Kobayashi, the event's six-time defending champion, will bow out of this year's event.

The Mainichi Daily News reported Tuesday that Shukan Gendai, Kobayashi's manager, said the sport's most dominant athlete was taking a break from the competition after the death of his mother in March.

"He's not even in training," Gendai was quoted as saying. "I haven't heard a word from him about whether he's going to take part in the July contest and there's no way that I know to get in touch with him."

George Shea, spokesman for Nathan's Famous July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island and the International Federation of Competitive Eating, said he was aware of the Japanese press report, but he disputed its accuracy.

"I saw that, too," Shea said of the Japanese report. "I said, 'What's going on here?' We have purchased the guy a ticket. We've been in discussions with him. All I can tell you is it's full speed ahead here."

Organizers are expecting a massive turnout at this year's July Fourth event after Joey Chestnut, a 23-year-old civil engineering student, shattered Kobayashi's record on June 2 during qualifying in Phoenix, Calif.

Chestnut devoured 59½ franks in 12 minutes in a southwest regional, qualifying to topple Kobayashi's mark of 53 3/4 dogs set at last year's Coney Island final, in which Chestnut finished third and set a then-American record of 52 dogs.

An estimated 30,000 fans gathered at Surf and Stillwell avenues on Coney Island last year to watch that Independence Day matchup. An additional 1.5 million people caught Kobayashi's victory on ESPN's live broadcast.

For the 2007 rematch, Sportsbook.com, the Internet gambling Web site, currently has Kobayashi as the slight underdog. He is even money, while Chestnut is the 4-5 favorite. The rest of the field is collectively a 20-1 long shot.

On the heels of Chestnut's record-breaking performance in qualifying, Shea said anticipation was mounting for this year's competition.

"I want to see these two go head-to-head," Shea said. "I believe it's a tossup."