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

Friday, August 25, 2006

A big man who will leave a big void

badlandsYesterday, the competitive eating world learned that Eric "Badlands" Booker has retired from the sport he helped put on the map. (Once it hits the IFOCE website, it's pretty much official.)

This is the man who once ate 49 glazed doughnuts in 8 minutes and nine-and-a-half pounds of peas in. . .actually, does it really matter how long it took him? He's also the
man whose larger-than-life mug is immortalized going face-to-face with Kobayashi on the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Contest countdown on Coney Island.

But his is not a sad retirement like Lou Gehrig. Nor did he hang on too long or fizzle out like Jerry Rice. And let's hope he doesn't attempt a series of half-hearted comebacks like Michael Jordan (though Badlands is incapable of doing anything half-heartedly, so we'd welcome him with open arms and full plates if he did decide to come back for seconds).

No, he did it on his own terms and, not surprisingly, he's still doing something he loves. As most people know, Badlands is not only a New York City subway conductor, he’s also an accomplished rapper, with two albums under his large belt. He's even got a protégé and a posse and he's probably got Diddy and Jay Z on his speed dial. Let's just say the man has the potential to be bigger and more successful in retirement than he was as a sportsman (which is no small feat considering the laundry list
of eating records he holds).

My personal favorite Badlands rap is "The Sweet Science of Competitive Eating," probably because it's played at every IFOCE event and it brings back lots of memories every time I hear it. Check it out
here. It should also be noted, that Badlands' catch phrase and the title of his first album -- "Hungry & Focused" -- has become part of the competitive eating lexicon and probably will for as long as the sport lives. ("How ya feeling today Crazy Legs?" "Hungry and focused, man, hungry and focused.")

Badlands even left his options open to be involved with the IFOCE on a higher level. Maybe a position in the front office or a coaching role on the circuit. Who knows. I'm a little sad because I never got a chance to see him eat competitively. I've met him and I've seen him rap several times, but to see him at the table would have been incredible. To compete against him. . .well, that would've been the highlight of my very young career.

NATHANS - Cookie and BadlandsHe's not the only big man with a big legacy to hang up his fork and knife this year. At the Nathan's contest, Cookie Jarvis announced the end of his competitive eating career and cemented his place in gurgitory history as one of the all time greats. I was lucky enough to have a front row "seat" that day on Coney Island and captured this photo of Cookie and Badlands swapping stories.

There's no doubt these two legends of the buffet will be missed. Lets just hope the young talent on the circuit was taking notes while these guys were wrapping up their careers, because sometimes the hardest thing in competitive eating isn't eating more than the old pros, it's filling their shoes after they've left the table.


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