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The Right Stuffing

Dec. 02, 2002
Dec. 02, 2002

Table of Contents
Dec. 2, 2002

College Football
Pro Football

The Right Stuffing

It would have none of the fanfare, and few of the table manners,
found at the G8 summit of economic superpowers. But the G8 summit
of gastronomic superpowers would be no less momentous, as eight
world champions of competitive eating gathered for a Thanksgiving
EatOff at Mickey Mantle's sports bar, a New York City shrine to
competitive drinking.

This is an article from the Dec. 2, 2002 issue Original Layout

The Group of Eight included four wafer-thin men. Crazy Legs Conti
has eaten 3 3/4 pounds of pancakes and half a pound of bacon in
12 minutes and run the New York City Marathon, though not
consecutively. Joe Menchetti once consumed 45 conch fritters in
six minutes. Oleg Zhornitskiy laid waste to 74 buffalo wings in
12 minutes. And 130-pound Rich LeFevre, in 600 seconds, inhaled 1
1/2 gallons of five-alarm chili. Though slight of stature, these
men are, in the dog-eat-chili-dog world of competitive
consumption, larger than life: four faces on eating's Mount
Flushmore.

Yet, these Four Forkmen of the Apocalypse reflect a larger, and
disturbing, trend. Have you noticed? Once peopled with literal
giants like Babe Ruth and Art Donovan, sport makes less and less
room at the table for fat guys, who are increasingly consigned to
society's margins, if not its margarines: Competitive eater Don
Lerman, in five terrible minutes last year, ate seven
quarter-pound sticks of butter, inserting them lengthwise into
his maw--one after another--like a man dispatching logs into a
woodchipper.

Indeed, the Tiger Woods of competitive eating, Japan's Takeru
(the Tsunami) Kobayashi, weighs all of 113 pounds. (Before
competition.) "To call Kobayashi the Tiger Woods of competitive
eating," says Rich Shea, president of the International
Federation of Competitive Eating, "is to slight Kobayashi." Last
Fourth of July, Kobayashi ate 50 1/2 hot dogs and buns in 12
minutes. The next closest competitor, 300-plus--plus--pound Eric
(Badlands) Booker, ate 26 1/2. So guess what he's doing? "Right now
I'm trying to lose what Kobayashi weighs--113 pounds--next July
4," says Booker, who once ate, while in a self-described "zone,"
49 glazed doughnuts in eight minutes. "If I can then expand my
stomach to meet my [stretched] skin, the sky's the limit for me."

In all sports it now literally pays to be thin. The Tsunami is
rumored to make a quarter-million dollars a year by eating
professionally. Boosters have pledged $1,000 for every pound that
Maryland football coach Ralph (Fridge) Friedgen loses, and at
last report the Fridge, who began his regimen at 355 pounds, was
40 pounds--and boosters were 40 grand--lighter.

Fat is costing Chris Childs money. Last month the 6'3" New Jersey
guard, who was a swollen 230 pounds, was suspended by the Nets,
packed off to the Duke Diet and Fitness Center and ordered to
lose 20 pounds. Inspired, Childs began to drop weight that very
day, surrendering $30,000 in jewelry and cash to armed men
outside P. Diddy's Manhattan nightclub.

Believing that no NFL team would hire an obese head coach, New
England Patriots assistant Charlie Weis had his stomach stapled
last June (page 94). In July 6'1", 286-pound Sanford Rivers, a
highly respected NFL head linesman, was suspended for the
entirety of this season. His vertical zebra stripes were deemed,
in the image-obsessed eyes of the league, insufficiently
slimming. Which is odd, as the NFL--along with sumo
wrestling--is the last refuge of the overweight in sports. Ten
years ago there were 66 300pounders in the league. Today there
are well over 300 who are well over 300.

To be sure, the competitive eating circuit still has its
behemoths, like Atlanta's 360-pound Dale (Mouth from the South)
Boone, who has speed-eaten more Russian dumplings (274 in six
minutes) than any man on Earth. Boone was planning to stay at
Crazy Legs Conti's apartment in New York City during the G8
summit. "And we'll have our own Macy's parade," Conti said last
week. "Dale is the size of one of the smaller blimps."

But Conti's hero and mentor is the legendary, 400-pound Hungry
Charles Hardy, with whom Crazy Legs used to haunt an
all-you-can-eat Greenwich Village sushi joint. "Charles eats a
California roll the size of California," says Conti, whose friend
was barred for life from that depleted establishment. But not
before he taught Conti everything he knows: Last Super Bowl
Sunday in New Orleans, Conti ate 168 oysters in 10 minutes to
defeat heavy favorites like Mo' Ribs Molesky and Crawfish Nick
Stipelkovich.

In eating as in everything else, thin is in. The heavy man is a
dinosaur, in every conceivable way. "Bigness helped the dinosaurs
thrive," says Shea, who has no formal training as a
paleontologist. "But ultimately it hurt them, and it was the
birds and stealth lizards that survived. Not to take anything
away from Booker"--and any busboy will tell you, you can't take
anything away from Booker--"but tomorrow's competitive eater is
likely a physically fit guy."

Thus, on Thanksgiving Eve at Mickey Mantle's, nothing short of
sport's future would be at stake. Does it belong to skinny
marathoners like LeFevre, who once scarfed down two 72ounce
steaks in 58 minutes on Donny & Marie ? Or to full-bodied
fullbacks like Badlands Booker, who did away with 38 hardboiled
eggs in 10 minutes on Fox's Glutton Bowl?

Both men say the thrill of competition is enough for them.
Everything else is gravy.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER
Even in the dogeatchili dog world of competitive eating, thin is
in. The heavy man is a dinosaur.