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A tale of two eaters

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The secret truth behind Takeru Kobayashi

EDITOR'S NOTE: (This story is from The Maine Edge's annual April Fools Day edition. As such, you can safely assume that most of it - if not all of it - is totally made-up.)

Longtime readers might remember my participation in (and total dominance of) a local hot dog eating contest a few years back. It was a reluctant return to the arena; I'd been out of action for some time. Waking up one day to see a mustard-smeared stranger in the mirror will do that to you. Once you lose yourself in the game, you have a hell of a time getting out.

But I walked away for a reason.

Back in the late 1990s, I was enrolled at the Konkurransedyktig Spise Academy in Oslo, Norway as part of America's Competitive Eating Exchange program. CEE was intended to help raise the stakes for American eaters and teach them the techniques created in various parts of the world. Despite or perhaps because of the obvious communication barrier between the many nationalities represented at the school, KSA was almost Socratic in its devotion to the free exchange of ideas.

That all changed when Takeru Kobayashi arrived on the scene.

You all remember Kobayashi. He's the competitive eating legend who won the Nathan's Hot Dog Belt six years running and held the hot dog world record for almost as long. He holds several other gluttonous marks for consuming vast quantities of things like Twinkies and meatballs, but it was the hot dogs that brought him his greatest fame.

Fame that should have been mine.

Takeru and I were roommates at KSA; I was in my postgrad year, he was a hotshot transfer from some big deal Pacific Rim eating school. Despite our almost total inability to communicate, TK and I got along quite well, even though it was clear to each of us that the other was his only true competition.

And oh, the competition! Nobody ever pushed me to grow as an eater like Kobayashi did. I like to think I did the same for him. As we made our way through that year, it became increasingly clear that a KSA alum might finally take control of the Nathan's belt. I pushed him, he pushed me we were steadily approaching championship numbers.

It was too good to last.

One night in the spring of 1999, I was doing some theory work; one of our goals at KSA was to find new methods that might give us our edge. TK and I had already done some pretty important work on the digestive physics of blueberry pie that had gained us some notoriety, but we both knew that hot dogs were where the money was at.

Weiner theory had been largely unchanged in the decades since the great Condiment Schism of the late 70s; many of the intelligentsia declared that the pinnacle had been reached. Even Takeru thought my struggle a foolish one. And yet despite their laughter and scorn, I continued. There had to be a better way.

And I found it.

It was a total accident. I had been at the kitchen table, poring over notes and using a few hot dogs as visual aids. I must have dozed off, because I came awake with a start. When I jerked, I knocked over a glass of water which promptly soaked the entire table. I rescued my notes, but when I started to clean up the hot dog mess, I made a game-changing discovery.

Soaked buns are easier to eat.

It seems so simple now, but back then, it was revolutionary. So revolutionary in fact that it was all I could do to keep from sprinting out the door and down the street, shouting 'Eureka!' all the way. Instead, I calmly wrote up my findings into a presentation that I would take to my advisor the next morning. I went to bed smugly assured of my legacy.

We all know what happened next. When I awoke and went to collect my papers, they were gone. So was Kobayashi, along with all of his stuff. He had stolen my research and run off. I assumed at the time that he was going to sell the information to the highest bidder. Instead, he chose to use it to become the most famous competitive eater in history.

He calls it 'The Solomon Method.' I call it thievery.

I hope you're enjoying your ill-gotten gains, Takeru. I truly do. We were friends once. Just remember no amount of hot dogs, no matter how vast, will ever be able to fill that void.

Also? You're a jerk.

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