Crazy Legs Conti eats his way through suc­cess. He’s a com­pet­i­tive eater, af­ter all.

Amer­i­can food eat­ing cham­pion Crazy Legs Conti, 46, on hot dogs, dunk­ing tech­niques and the day he had to eat his way out of pop­corn

Friday - - Contents -

How did you get into com­pet­i­tive eat­ing? I was a fan of the sport in the ’90s when it was a sub-cul­ture, but now it’s sort of en­tered the main­stream. It all started for me when I was in New Or­leans for the 2002 Su­per Bowl. While I ended up not be­ing able to af­ford to go to the game I did get to eat oysters on the half-shell and broke the restau­rant record at the Acme Oys­ter House. I ate 34 dozen of them in the course of the Su­per Bowl [that’s 408 oysters!].

Is seafood your forté? I cer­tainly con­sider my stom­ach kind of like a bea­con wel­com­ing the ocean’s crea­tures back to it, but I’ve also done well in the veg­etable dis­ci­pline: I’m the four-time corn on the cob eat­ing cham­pion. I think when most peo­ple start they have a spe­cial­ity or a food they love, but once you get into it you have to be a cross-dis­ci­plined ath­lete. You have to be good at ev­ery kind of food.

You’ve men­tioned ‘sport’ and ‘ath­lete’: do you see what you do in such se­ri­ous terms, or is tongue firmly in cheek? This is an aer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity where 10 min­utes of eat­ing can be a marathon. We use min­dover-stom­ach-mat­ter, but we do it in a way that sports psy­chol­o­gists would un­der­stand, so I def­i­nitely think of us as pro ath­letes.

What’s the se­cret to eat­ing quickly? It all de­pends on the food. De­bris food that leaves a bone, like chicken wings, has sev­eral tech­niques, but there’s re­ally no se­cret. What tends to hap­pen is that eaters get bet­ter each year as they com­pete and fig­ure out new ways of eat­ing hot dogs and buns quicker, for ex­am­ple, which may be by dunk­ing the bun or open­ing up the fleshy un­der­side. A lot of it is a per­sonal jour­ney to fig­ure out the quick­est way to eat the food.

So there’s noth­ing that en­ables you guys to eat more than the rest of us, from a phys­i­o­log­i­cal point of view? I think there are two eaters in his­tory – Tekaru Kobayashi and Sonya ‘The Black Wi­dow’ Thomas – who have some­thing about their body’s make up that makes them ex­cel­lent eaters, but for the rest of us it’s pretty much learned tech­nique.

Are you all nat­u­rally hun­gry peo­ple? Yes, I think if you look at some of the top eaters like Joey Ch­est­nut, they come from large fam­i­lies of six or seven sib­lings so clearly there was the no­tion of try­ing to eat as quickly as you could to get the most at the din­ner ta­ble.

Why does Joey Ch­est­nut seem to be win­ning ev­ery­thing at the mo­ment? Joey is one of those rare ath­letes that re­ally thrives on com­pe­ti­tions – he needs some­one push­ing him to do his best, but he’s pretty much un­beat­able, es­pe­cially in hot dogs and buns. He’s won that 10 years in a row: this year he ate 72, which is more than I ate in three qual­i­fiers. He’s un­stop­pable at cer­tain dis­ci­plines.

What was your great­est achieve­ment? I’ve sort of com­bined com­pet­i­tive eat­ing with some food ‘stunt man’ type ac­tiv­i­ties so I was buried alive in 80 cu­bic feet of pop­corn and had to eat my way out. I also rode on top of the Won­der Wheel at Coney Is­land, which goes 200 feet in the air and ate hot dogs as it re­volved.

Is there a liv­ing to be made out of this? They rank the top 50 pros and there’s money to be made, but re­ally the only guy without an­other job is who­ever is ranked Num­ber 1 – cur­rently Joey Ch­est­nut. But there’s prize money and money in ap­pear­ances, and cor­po­ra­tions will pay you to eat their food in com­pe­ti­tions. It’s an in­ter­est­ing side-line.

Do you train be­fore a com­pe­ti­tion? You do tech­nique train­ing be­cause you want to fig­ure out what you’re go­ing to do, but just like marathon run­ners don’t run 26.2 miles the day be­fore their race, we don’t eat for 10 straight min­utes the food we’re go­ing to eat later on, be­cause that would do you in. A lot of it is about pre-vi­su­al­i­sa­tion.

Do you ever get pro­test­ers at com­pe­ti­tions? Oc­ca­sion­ally. Com­pet­i­tive eat­ing used to bring up a lot of hot-but­ton is­sues but those com­plex­i­ties, whether it’s obe­sity or world hunger, are pretty in­volved. We don’t have any leftovers, we in­volve our­selves with char­i­ties that give back to food banks, so the pro­test­ers are few and far be­tween.

Is ill­ness and death an oc­cu­pa­tional hazard? You rarely feel ill. You def­i­nitely feel sa­ti­ated and you don’t eat for an­other 24 hours or so, so it’s like an ana­conda diet. You feel the fullest right at the buzzer, but then the food starts to set­tle. And if you throw up dur­ing a con­test you’re dis­qual­i­fied, so you’ve got to keep it down. We have very few in­juries. If there’s a pizza-eat­ing con­test you might burn the roof of your mouth, but for the most part food be­comes soft and mal­leable. We have emer­gency doc­tors at ev­ery event and no one’s ever re­ally got­ten in­jured.

What was your worst day at work? I’ve lost hot dog qual­i­fiers by a sin­gle bite. That’s hap­pened a cou­ple of times and it’s a tough thing to stom­ach, so to speak.

Are you a big eater at home? I am, but I watch what I eat so that I’m able to do my best. So I jog, I go to the gym, but I do like good food in big quan­ti­ties so I’m kind of a gourmet and a gour­mand.

Crazy Legs be­gan his ca­reer by down­ing over 400 bi­valves in an oys­ter-eat­ing con­test

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