Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Spirit of Independence

One of the finest institutions of art and inspiration is Disney World's Epcot in Florida. Inside of their World Showcase pavilion you can find a great example of the embodiment of the American spirit of independence in a statue aptly named Spirit of Independence.

There's something about how a stone man dressed in garb from The American Revolution that stirs one's spirit and just makes you feel liberated. Like you posses the freedom to do as you please and to pursue the endeavors that your heart pushes you towards. Especially if that endeavor is to win an eating contest.

A couple weeks ago, I witnessed some of my competitive eating friends pursue this goal in Hawthorne, Ca. The MLE held a qualifier for their 4th of July Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest there. This event awarded a trip to New York and a place in the contest to the top male and female competitive eater of that day. It would be a brutal contest, with a lot of unknown variables to take into consideration. And to be perfectly up front, it took a lot of restraint from myself to avoid participating in this one.


The competition would include Matt Stonie, Crazy Legs Conti, Ben Taylor, Damon Wells, Kevin Ross and Bryan Beard. It would have been such a thrill to prove myself against these eaters and to finally get that rematch against Matt who I came second to in a burger contest last Autumn. I also felt confident in my hot dog eating technique since I pulled some decent numbers in Las Vegas from my last contest. But I'll wait, I'm still undecided if and when I will participate in an MLE event so I'll focus on supporting my friends in the MLE in the mean time.

One of the most exciting aspects of this qualifier was to see which of the eaters would actually show up. Some declared their intention to compete ahead of time such as Stonie and Conti, while others were a last minute surprise such as Taylor. Though the most anticipated possible participant was definitely, the highly ranked, Ben Monson. I have yet to see this guy do anything since I joined the competitive eating world and apparently no one has heard from him.  

After the line up was sorted out, the eaters prepared their drinks on stage and the contest started smoothly. Going in, the favorites to win were definitely Matt Stonie and Crazy Legs Conti. It made the most sense given their past performance and that they were the two highest ranked MLE eaters participating. The food supply was reasonably organized though the counting for the amount of hot dogs consumed on stage left much to be desired. They only had counters for Taylor, Stonie and Conti and they did not continuously nor accurately reflect what was being consumed during the contest. The only thing that the crowd was certain of was that Matt Stonie was eating a lot of hot dogs.


He seemed to be dominating most of the contest but no one, including the eaters themselves would know the final total until a few minutes after the contest. Christine Kitchenmaster ended up winning the women's division by consuming 8 hot dogs in the 10 minute time limit. However the men's contest had a bit more ambiguity. The discussion about the final totals on stage between the eaters and the judges seemed to take forever. The audience eagerly waited in anticipation.

Surely, the top three would be Stonie, Conti and Taylor. Those were the only eaters they had counters for but when it was announced that Taylor came in 4th with 20 hot dogs, I was very surprised. Someone else had actually eaten more than these guys. And after Conti came in 3rd with 21 hot dogs and Stonie came in 2nd with 25, I honestly had no clue who else could have pulled such high numbers. As it turns out, Damon Wells was the one pulling the high numbers. He won the contest and a spot at Coney Island with 26.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Here's video of the contest:


I believe that the victor is usually the person with the strongest spirit and determination to achieve something. Damon had talked to me about how hard he had been training for this and I had no clue that this would result in his victory at Hawthorne. I'm glad he did so well since it's a testament to effort and pursuit. Though I felt bad for Matt for coming in 2nd at this event. I don't think he mustered up all the effort he could have for this one due to the lack of accurate updates on the amounts people were eating during the contest.

It's okay though, he ended up eating 32 hot dogs at another qualifier after this, also securing his spot at the big event at Coney Island. It will be interesting to see how these two do against one another as well as the other top eaters on Independence Day. I'm pretty sure victory will come to whomever has the greatest spirit.

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