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Extreme eaters

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POSTED April 29, 2009 2:21 a.m.
I wouldn’t call competitive eating a sport.

Not just yet.

But make no mistake about it: the events of the Major League Eaters are extreme.

Take last Saturday’s Stockton Asparagus Festival, for example.

Many at the 24th annual event – sanctioned by MLE – made their way to the main stage of the Weber Point Event Center to watch four-time defending champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut take part in the world deep-fried asparagus-eating contest.

He’s the same Joey Chestnut who defeated the legendary Takeru Kobayashi in an eat-off to claim the bejeweled Nathan’s Famous hot dog “Mustered Belt” before a nationally-televised Fourth of July audience.

Ranked No. 1 by MLE, Chestnut, a San Jose State product via Vallejo, had to get past Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti.

The 22-year-old Chicagoan and No. 2 ranked eater in the world had a string of victories to his credit including wins over both Chestnut and Kobayashi in recent competitions.

Anytime the top two competitors in any field square off, you almost expect a grudge match of epic proportion along the lines of Ali and Frazier. Not so. These two guys have a friendly rivalry and mutual respect for one another reminiscent of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in their latter years.

Bertoletti, who is easily identified by his stylish Mohawk, was the first the pro eater to arrive at the venue.

He appeared ripe to stage the upset after his close second-place finish of a year ago. In terms of physical stature, Bertoletti, listed at 190 pounds, pales in comparison to that of the 420-pound Eric “Badland” Booker, a Brooklyn native and competitive eater for over 10 years.

Ranked No. 13, Booker entertained the gathering crowd by performing his original hip-hop lyrics. Later, he took his seat at the competitive-eating table sporting a Stockton Asparagus Festival t-shirt that had to be stretched out by several of his colleagues in order to fit his enormous frame.

Incidentally, when it comes to sitting, participants prefer to stand and even hop around while ingesting for the competition. They also kept hydrated, gulping down plenty of liquids while consuming mass quantities of food during those intense 10 minutes.

Bertoletti was the early leader and managed to just stay ahead of Chestnut, who noticeably struggled early on in the competition. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the difficult part of the asparagus is ingesting the tough fiber from the butt of the vegetable.

Perhaps that’s what separated the pros from the amateurs, with some of the asparagus-eating competitors experiencing a “reversal” otherwise known as vomiting.

In the end, Bertoletti held on, defeating Chestnut by a few stalks. All told, he devoured 7 pounds, 5 ounces of asparagus.

With that, he claimed $1,200 in prize money – Chestnut, for his effort, took home $750 while third-place finisher, Booker, was awarded $500 – along with the handsome trophy and, more importantly, the title as the world’s deep-fried asparagus-eating champion.

The definition of sport, according to Webster, is “a physical activity, esp. one with a set form and body of rules.”

I guess you really can’t blame MLE for calling competitive eating a sport.
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