"It is possible to die from eating. But I think to be professional means you don't die." (Takeru Kobayashi)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Eaters today, gone tomorrow

Like some guys' tastes in women, competitive eaters just keep getting younger. It's a fact. Rich Shea said during the Nathan's contest that the average age of ranked competitive eaters has dropped from 40 to 33 over the past year alone. I guess it's not surprising given the rising popularity of the sport, but one has to wonder what that means for the longevity of these young rookies' careers.

Guys like Joey Chestnut (22 years old, ranked #2 in the world), Pat Bertoletti (20, #4), Chip Simpson (24, #7) and Hall Hunt (24, #15) have all burst onto the scene in the past 18 months and represent the very bright and unpredictable future of the IFOCE. Appropriately, all four are unmarried college students, which seems like the perfect "occupation" for someone who might need to take a leave of absence for a bratwurst eating contest in Sheboygan.

But it's not like older, married and career-minded competitive eaters can't do the same thing. Sure, they've got real jobs and real spouses, but those jobs and spouses are also ones that support their alter egos as pro eaters. In other words, they saw competitive eating as something they'd like to pursue, realized their jobs or families would be cool with that dream, and built their careers as eaters around lifestyles that would sustain it.

Put yet another way, the best eater in the world might be putting an Old Country Buffet in Tulsa out of business as we speak, but he'll never realize his potential on the pro eating circuit because he's a workaholic with a demanding family life.

Unlike the new blood on the circuit. In order to indulge their gurgitory urges, they only have to worry about skipping out on a party at the Delta Kegga house on Saturday and maybe promising a girlfriend that they'll call and bring back a souvenir.

So their calendars are wide open -- for now. What happens in two years when Joey, Pat and the rest of the frat pack get real jobs or in five years when they marry and start families? Will today's Rookie of the Year candidates be competitive eating retirees in their late 20's -- trading hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches for PDAs and diaper bags?

Hard to say, but assuming competitive eating is still alive and strong then, I'm sure there'll be no shortage of new meat ready to take their spots at the table. That's if they're able to scrape together enough lawn-mowing money to pay for gas.


Blogger Dan said...

When I was in college (mid-80s on the mean streets of West Philly) I was known as "The Vortex" and could eat all of my bigger, heftier pals under the table. I'd even, for diner or bar tabs, eat the worst concoctions people would put in front of me. Where was the field of competitive eating then?! LOL... I love the idea that there's some "natural" out there in the Midwest, plowing through an AUCE (as one sign in Florida acronymed it) buffet dreaming about his shot at the big time.

8:43 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too, how long can Joey or Pat or the young guys keep up the ultrademands they put on their bodies? Not talking contests, but the training they do.. Yes there are some eaters who did or have done it long term, but those guys never put their bodies through the training every day..

9:35 AM

Anonymous liz said...

The better the younger eaters have gotten, the more intense the training has become. I don't think the standard for performance that younger eaters set can be maintained for long without really hurting the body. The younger eaters, who have natural talent and who are training vigorously, are different eaters than those going at it with only natural talent behind them. Obviously, there are some pros who have been in the game awhile who perform really well (ie, the LeFevres), but who knows what the future will hold for big eaters who train hard. Maybe more early retirements?

10:10 AM

Anonymous Philly Guy said...

I'm nowhere near their level, but with the drastic increases I've been having as of late once you reach a point its not too hard to keep it. Once you have the capacity its all mental and mechanics. Capasity takes a bit of a back seat.

11:21 AM

Blogger steakbellie said...

a fascinating angle on eating. In the end it's the social ramifications of competitive eating that make it difficult to maintain.

I'm 35 and have been married nearly 15 years before I started competing. Job, house, wife, and 3 kids...The first contest (Wing Bowl) was very exciting for everyone, as it was 3 months of training, publicity and finally competition.

The problems arise when I enter the next contest, and then the next one. "Where is this going?, what do you want out of this?" All very legitimate questions from my wife who must now adapt to this new occupation I have taken up. I get recognized around town at any BBQ or Pool that I show up, I am surrounded by people asking me what my next contest is. My wife is adapting, and I've had to adapt too to be more considerate with destoying the kitchen on training days, or to train less often so I am not sick and unable to help around the house.

The young eaters do so well because they are unattached and can fully embrace the sport without the same repercussions as the older eaters. They are fortunate and exciting to watch, and I wonder how good any of us could have been had we had that opportunity.

They will not retire young, because their future wives will always know them as eaters, and it will be the 'normal' routine for them. There is no rude interuption or metamorphasis of the person you knew so well.

11:41 AM

Blogger Mega Munch said...

Interesting views on the added stresses of training. I hadn't thought about that, but now it seems like a valid point. They'll either have to cut back on the intensity of the training (if their competitive fires allow them to) or risk fizzling out BEFORE career and family comittments take over. That's a much scarier scenario and one I'm sure the IFOCE dreads.

And Steakbellie...ever the romantic! I like your idea that future wives will accept eating as a part of who the man is, but the cynic in me thinks it's only a matter of time before that understanding breaks down.

Sooner or later her trip to visit the in-laws at the time share is gonna clash with his qualifier in Tallahassee and then something's gotta give! But I suppose some compromises here and there are to be expected in married life.

7:28 PM

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2:33 PM


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