July 4, 2008 -- In one of the most exciting finishes in hot dog eating competition history, defending champion Joey Chestnut today defeated six-time winner Takeru Kobayashi in overtime to keep the Mustard Belt, $20,000 and the world's fastest hot dog eater title.
Both eaters downed 59 hot dogs in the regular 10-minute competition at Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hotdog-Eating Contest in Coney Island, forcing a speed-eating, five-dog overtime. There Chestnut, known to some as the "Clay Aiken of Bacon," proved to be the speedier of the two.
"It was a little bit messier than I wanted it to be," Chestnut said immediately after the competition. "But I got them in me. I got them down.
"He wanted it, but I needed it," he said.
Kobayashi, who lost last year's competition to Chestnut, said it was speed that did him in.
"There wasn't really that big of a difference," the Japanese eating machine said through a translator. "I think I lost because I wasn't quick enough in the rematch."
Though the competition featured several so-called gurgitators, most dressed in eccentric costumes, Chestnut and Kobayashi proved after only a few minutes that the real competition was their head-to-head battle.
Chestnut maintained an early one hot dog lead over Kobayashi, who then turned up the heat after the four-minute mark and took the lead. Chestnut eventually caught up to make the contest neck and neck.
When the final whistle blew, both Kobayashi and Chestnut had their mouths and their hands full of their 59th dog. Their bellies already full, both competitors took on the speed-eating overtime just minutes later, where Chestnut prevailed.
This is the first year in recent memory in which the competition was 10 minutes long, rather than the usual 12 minutes -- a change that's rooted in history.
According to Nathan's, which supplies the hot dogs for the competition, a document was found last month, dating to the early 1900s, that laid down the rules for the hot dog eating competition.
Among them was the stipulation that the competition would last 10 minutes. In an effort to "honor tradition," the competition was changed.
Many expected the shorter time limit to affect the competition because it would force eaters to eat quickly but would not require as much stomach endurance.
Regardless of the change, the results for the top two spots remained the same.
"I love to eat," Chestnut said. "I love the competition. I was being pushed by everyone on the Fourth of July. You can only get away with it on this day, working so hard on something silly like this."
But the title is his only for the year, and when Kobayashi was asked if he would be competing again, he offered a simple, yet ominous "of course."