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After Choking in Pizza Contest, Is Kobayashi Finished?

Nov 16, 2010 – 5:00 PM
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Ben Muessig

Ben Muessig Contributor

(Nov. 16) -- If you're a longtime fan of competitive eating legend Takeru Kobayashi, this news could be hard to swallow.

In his first professional eating event on American soil since his controversial arrest this summer, the legendary glutton failed in his attempt to set the Guinness World Record for pizza eating -- leading some skeptics to wonder whether the six-time Nathan's champ is past his prime.

At Saturday's Japanese Art Matsuri festival in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kobayashi was unable to swallow an entire 12-inch pizza in fewer than 105.37 seconds. Struggling to follow Guinness World Record rules that required him to use a fork and knife, the famed eater finished in 123 seconds, according to The Brooklyn Paper.

"It was hard -- [the pizza] was too soft," he told the broadsheet. "I couldn't get it with the fork. One more time? One more time?"

But there was no second try for Kobayashi, adding another high-profile defeat to his once impeccable resume.

Kobayashi's publicist, Maggie James, told AOL News that the problem was the pizza -- not the man eating it.

"The pizza was too soft and not cooked right. It was not suitable for this event," she said in an e-mail. "There should also have been more pizza prepared and ready for him. Guinness allows more chances to try again. Kobayashi asked to have another pizza to try because he knew the condition was not right, but was answered that there was no more pizza prepared."

Kobayashi rose to fame following his historic victory at the Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2001, when he doubled existing records by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes.

With his lightning fast jaws, unbelievable stomach capacity and trademark "Kobayashi shake," he brought competitive eating to another level. But in 2007, reigning Nathan's champ Joey "Jaws" Chestnut took the hot dog title -- and some insiders say it's been downhill for Kobayashi ever since.

Kobayashi lost to Chestnut in 2007, 2008 and 2009 before backing out of this year's contest because of a contract dispute with Major League Eating. But he showed up at the Nathan's event anyway and got arrested for rushing the stage after the competition ended.

The Japanese citizen didn't face much legal trouble following the July 4 fiasco. Since his court date, he has kept his distance from Major League Eating -- winning a small, independent Canadian pizza eating contest.

But that victory hasn't stopped fans and the press from asking whether Kobayashi should throw the napkin onto the plate and retire.

Major League Eating's George Shea told AOL News that Kobayashi's decision to leave the league and participate in smaller contests could be taken as a sign that he can no longer eat with the big boys.

"I don't believe that he can still eat the way he once did, otherwise, why would he be doing this? I hope that I'm wrong," Shea said. "We've asked him to come sit and talk many times. We always would remain open to that, but he doesn't want to -- and it begs the question, why?"

"Maybe this is the post-Kobayashi era. I hoped that wasn't the case, but it might be what we're seeing," he added.

According to James, that's the furthest thing from the truth.

"Kobi is at his prime, and when in training before last July Fourth, he was in his best condition ever," she said.

In an exclusive interview with AOL News this summer, Kobayashi said he was still hungry for glory.

"I will still go for a long time," he said. "After you're 30, your body will start to not be as young. The thing is, now you have experience and you have technique."

Despite rumors that he's nearing the end of his career, James says Kobayashi is just beginning to transition into something greater than a professional glutton.

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"Kobi has always been more than an athlete, but the media and outside world now look at him as more," she said, noting that since his arrest and departure from Major League Eating, Kobayashi has received countless requests to compete -- as well as requests to appear on TV and promote products.

He was recently photographed by celebrity photographer Terry Richardson for a feature in an upcoming issue of the men's magazine VMAN, and he is scheduled to appear in Toronto for a Nov. 20 Nintendo promotion in which he will race against a digital Donkey Kong in a banana-eating contest.

"I think people have taken notice of him since his fight to stand up for his rights," she said. "People connect to him in a different way now, possibly with more emotion and compassion."
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