Koby (53.75) Fights Off Challenge From Chestnut (52)

Takeru Kobayashi of Japan ended the 2006 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest as champion once again, setting a new world record of 53 and 3/4 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes.

But not without a major challenge from rookie Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Califonia, who set a new American record of 52 HDBs in 12 minutes.

Chestnut led Kobayashi for the first half of the contest, establishing a two hot dog lead before slowly losing ground to the five-time winner from Nagoya. By the 10-munite mark, Chestnut was a dog and a half behind and could not mount the comeback necessary to win.

Never before, however, has an american performed so well against Kobayashi and never before has America been so galvanized by a sports hero. The crowd of more than 30,000 cheered Chestnut on throughout the contest, but especially in the final minutes, chanting "Joey," "Joey."

Sonya Thomas placed third with 37 HDBs, Patrick Bertoletti ate 34.5, Eater X had 34, and Chip Simpson consumed 33.

The event, which was preceded by an extravagant show featuring Coney Island performing talent, took place in nearly 90-degree heat and nearly 90 percent humidity. Some eaters were overwhelmed with the heat and their performance was impacted.

Many in the crowd expressed dismay that a scheduled performance by the dance troupe, Clogtastica, had to be cancelled due to technical delays. Still others expressed horror that show organizers chose to proceed with a rap rendition of Burt Bacharach's "Say a Little Prayer" by George Shea rather than running with Clogtastica, the Neat Eating Contest, or the much-anticipated "Dance Battle to the Death."