Frank Champ May Have Gut of Steel
BETH J. HARPAZ
Jul. 05, 1999
NEW YORK (AP) _ Most mortals would have serious indigestion after just a tiny fraction of Steve Keiner's hot dog feast.
But after winning the annual Nathan's July Fourth hot dog-eating contest by wolfing down 20 1/4 franks and buns, Keiner did something even more mind-boggling: He ate a couple more.
``I feel great,'' said the 317-pound Keiner, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J. ``And one other thing: They were simply delicious.''
Keiner, 50, downed the dogs in 12 minutes on Sunday to beat 134-pound Hirofumi Nakajima of Japan, who'd won the contest the past two years.
``I took the Zen approach,'' Keiner said, acknowledging his competitor's cultural influence. ``I went down a path that the hot dog was one with me, and I was one with the universe. Could I get some french fries now?''
Keiner, an electrical inspector, wrapped himself in the American flag and posed for pictures after winning.
``There are tears of joy in Coney Island!'' said publicist George Shea, who gave a running commentary throughout the all-you-can-eat dogfight. ``The belt is back in America!''
He was referring to a mustard-yellow weightlifter's belt that goes to the annual event's winner.
Two contestants tied for second, coming within a mouthful of winning, at 20 hot dogs apiece. Nakajima placed fourth, downing only 19 franks.
``I feel bad, terrible,'' said Nakajima, 24, via an interpreter. ``I don't want to look at a hot dog right now.''
Nakajima, a former noodle-eating champion, said he was retiring from eating contests. ``I'm done,'' he said. ``That's it.''
The contest has been held on Independence Day at the Nathan's flagship store nearly every year since 1916.
Many contestants dipped their hot dogs in a lubricating water bath before eating them, but Keiner said he comes from the purists' school.
``I tried that once,'' he said, ``but it ruins the bouquet.''
Like spectators at an air show morbidly poised for disaster to strike, the crowd watched with slightly nauseous fascination as the men competed.
``I was waiting for someone to vomit,'' said Stacey Simcox, as she ate her own hot dog _ just one _ after the winner was announced.
And of course no event in New York is complete without a protest. This one had vegetarians handing out fliers.
``It's a pretty disgusting spectacle,'' said Alex Press of New York. ``We love animals.''