The Sport of Competitive Eating – Taking Eating Contests to the Next Level

June 27, 2011

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Competitive eaters regularly dominate eating contests by consuming massive amounts of food in record times. Competitive eating champions Patrick Bertoletti and “Crazy Legs” Conti, can put even the heartiest appetites to shame with their impressive eating skills.

Bertoletti credits the start of his eating career to his twin sister, who encouraged him to participate in the sport.

“My twin sister convinced me to make myself useful and enter my first eating event over six years ago,” says Bertoletti, who is currently ranked as the No. 2 eater in the world by Major League Eating. “She knew of my eating feats and perhaps had that twin ESP that knew I was destined for an incredible competitive eating career. I liken it to animals’ abilities to sense earthquakes and natural disasters far before humans and scientific instruments.”   

Bertoletti says he originally became a competitive eater out of a combination of boredom and a desire to be a part of something big.

“The reason I keep traveling and competing is not for monetary gains, as I don't make that much, but rather the experiences that come along with traveling to towns I've never heard of, can't locate on a map, or spell,” Bertoletti says. “I would not have gone to these places otherwise and it gives me a great perspective on the ins and outs of the United States.”

Traveling isn’t the only benefit that Bertoletti receives from participating in competitive eating contests.

“I also get great enjoyment after [an eating contest], when I know I was in the zone and know that no one else on the planet could have beat me,” Bertoletti says. “I chase the elusive ‘perfect contest’ where your body, brain, adrenaline, and stomach all work in harmony to create superhuman feats [or] results.”

TRAINING FOR COMPETITIVE EATING CONTESTS

Conti has been on the Major League Eating circuit for nine years. 

Conti, who won the 2011 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship by eating 33.5 ears of corn in 12 minutes, says he usually does one practice run to get his technique down.

He says he didn’t do much to train for this year’s National Sweet Corn Eating Championship, though.

“I ate four or five pieces [of sweet corn] casually, no training for this one,” Conti says.

Bertoletti also prepares himself before a big competition.

“I practice with the food if I'm unfamiliar, but at this point I've eaten everything from rocky mountain oysters to plum dumplings,” Bertoletti says. “So I do general capacity training where I will eat a large meal and guzzle a few quarts of Gatorade along with it.”

EATING CONTESTS RECORDS

Conti says his favorite competitions involve seafood and New Orleans. He really enjoys Rouses Crawfish Eating World Championship and the Acme Oyster House oyster-eating competition.

 “I was fortunate enough to set the Acme restaurant record of eating 34 dozen oysters in one sitting during the Superbowl,” Conti says. “I was the first-ever Oyster King.”

Bertoletti’s proudest moment as a competitive eater was his performance at the 2007 Major League Eating St. Patrick's Day Chowdown.

“I dominated everyone and had one of the best eating performances of my life,” Bertoletti says. 

He ate 47 cream-filled donuts in five minutes, followed by 98 pickled jalapenos. 

Bertoletti says he really enjoys eating competitions that allow him to travel internationally.

“I was flown to a music fest outside of Prague to compete in [a] plum dumplings [eating contest],” Bertoletti says. “That was one of the highlights of my life. I ended up eating 233 dumplings in an hour, eclipsing the old record, but that trip is one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

Bertoletti also enjoys the fans that he has acquired throughout his years as a competitive eater.

“There are certain repeat cities where I see the same people and have developed friendships,” Bertoletti says. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing an old friend from years past. The fans are great, at most contests it’s that train wreck analogy where it's something so unique, crazy, gross, exciting, freakshowish that you can't look away.” 

MAJOR LEAGUE EATING

 “Competitive eating is just a brotherhood and sisterhood of the stomach,” Conti says. “When the competition starts, it’s every man or women for themselves. There are rivalries; I’ve had several over the close to decade I’ve been at the table. At its core, competitive eating is just a big group of people eating a lot of food.”

Conti also enjoys the traveling that goes along with being a competitive eater.

“The beauty of major league eating is that we do events all over the county,” he says.

Eating competitions aren’t the only occasion for Conti to show off his eating skills. He made a documentary titled Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and Art of Competitive Eating.

“For the documentary, I ate my way out of a popcorn sarcophagus,” Conti says.

Besides the documentary, Conti has also performed competitive eating stunts.

Conti, a former window cleaner, once ate a dozen donuts in three minutes, while cleaning a window.

COMPETITIVE EATING – NOT FOR EVERYONE

Although many people enjoy watching competitive eating competitions, others are not as amused by them.

Rob Vance, a 2006 Web Design & Interactive Media graduate of The Art Institute of Philadelphia, says they kind of gross him out.

“It's a display of gluttony,” Vance says.

Although he’s not a fan of the sport, he has been impressed by some of the records set by competitive eater, Takeru Kobayashi.

He cites Kobayashi’s July 4, 2001, performance at the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Competition, on Coney Island as his favorite. Kobayashi ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes, doubling the previous record of 25, Vance says.

Author: Laura Jerpi
Contributing writer for EDMC.

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