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Kobayashi: No Plan to Rush Stage at Hot Dog Contest

Jul 8, 2010 – 3:06 AM
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Ben Muessig

Ben Muessig Contributor

(July 8) -- Sometimes a competitive eater has to trust his gut.

And that's exactly what embattled eater Takeru Kobayashi says he did when he rushed the stage at the Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4.

In an exclusive interview with AOL News, Kobayashi claims he didn't plan on jumping onto the stage when he decided to attend the Coney Island contest. Instead, he followed his instincts -- and wound up in jail.

"There was so much cheering and I just got too excited," said Kobayashi, speaking through his interpreter, Maggie James.

Before the Nathan's event, the Japanese eater announced he wouldn't take part in the largest contest on the competitive eating circuit because he refused to sign a Major League Eating contract containing an exclusivity clause that would have barred him from participating in outside contests, obtaining certain sponsors or making media appearances without league consent.

Major League Eating Executive Director George Shea confirms that Kobayashi's contract did include an exclusivity clause, but he says those kinds of agreements are standard in sports leagues.

"The contract prevents eaters from doing events that compete with Major League Eating and its sponsors," Shea said. "There are restrictions in the contract -- and that's why he's being paid money."

Kobayashi and Major League Eating officials weren't able to come to an agreement before the event, but the six-time Nathan's champ showed up anyway just before the contest began. Twenty minutes later, he was in police custody.

The eater insists he didn't show up at the competition intending to upstage the other competitive eaters, like arch rival Joey "Jaws" Chestnut -- who took home his fourth Nathan's Mustard Belt by downing 54 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.

"There were no plans for that," Kobayashi said.

Instead, Kobayashi says he decided to watch the hot dog contest because he wanted to cheer on his fellow eaters and because he feels a special attachment to the event he revolutionized in 2001 when he doubled the existing record by downing 50 hot dogs.

But when this year's contest ended, Kobayashi says he went from a spectator to criminal suspect when the crowd started chanting, "Let him eat."

Though he speaks little English, Kobayashi says he understood what his fans wanted.

"They started yelling and chanting for me, so I got excited and before I knew it I found myself on the stage," Kobayashi said. "In my head I was thinking, 'Wow, with all the fans cheering maybe they're going to let me eat now.'

"But they caught me in one second."

Kobayashi spent a night in jail and was charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, trespassing and disorderly conduct. His next court date is Aug. 5.

He says the homemade "Free Kobi" T-shirt he wore to the contest shouldn't be interpreted as a sign he knew he was going to get arrested. Instead, he maintains it was made to show his frustration with Major League Eating's restrictive contracts.

"The real basic reason is because he wanted to be free from the exclusivity clause in his contract," James said. "He was like, 'Free me from this contract so I can be in the contest.'"

Kobayashi says he wasn't there to eat, and he feels bad about stealing the show from the eaters.

"I didn't try to mess up that contest," he said.

"I guess, because of the large chanting, before I realized my body was on the stage ... I guess I just have to say I'm that kind of person -- I couldn't control myself."
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