CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) – Takeru Kobayashi, the six-time defending Nathan’s hot dog eating champion, dismissed speculation that his announcement of a painful jaw ailment could be a mental ploy to lull his main opponent into complacency ahead of next week’s Coney Island contest.
“That’s not even funny,” he said. “I don’t even have time to think about that.”
In a phone interview using a translator from his New York hotel, he said that he can only open his mouth to the width of two of his fingers.
“Right now, it’s not so good, but I’ve been talking to professionals and taking their advice,” Kobayashi said. “They’ve been giving me exercises for relaxing the muscles and giving me some things I can do to relax and heal my jaw.”
The Japanese eater heads to Coney Island on Wednesday looking to win his seventh consecutive title at the Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan’s Famous. He said this week that misaligned wisdom teeth and his voracious competitive eating career have led to painful arthritis in his jaw.
He lost his hot dog record five weeks ago to American Joey Chestnut, who ate 59½ dogs to Kobayashi’s 53 3/4.
Chestnut said this week that he was perplexed by Kobayashi’s reported condition.
“I hate to call anybody a coward, and I wouldn’t call him that,” the 23-year-old said. “But I don’t know. He’s shown up the six previous years. It’s a strange coincidence, now that he’s the underdog.”
Kobayashi is the reigning champion of the Krystal Square Off competition hosted by the Chattanooga-based fast-food chain. Last year he broke his own record in that contest, taking eight minutes to down 97 of the soft, square burgers that are similar to White Castle’s. Chestnut, from San Jose, Calif., came in second with 91 Krystals.
The native of Nagano, Japan, said he planned to evaluate his health after Wednesday’s contest before committing to the Krystal event, which has a top prize of $10,000.
“I’m very worried about if I can fix my problem before the contest,” he said. “Since this got out, a lot of people have rallied around me and given me advice, and I really feel the energy of other people. I want to try my best not to give up.”