Do You want to become hot dog eating champion? Of all the ways to prove yourself to the world, scoffing a ridiculous number of hot dogs in a race against the clock is surely one of the strangest. Today, though, speed eating is big business, and Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island is the blue riband event, complete with a US$10,000 prize pot.

The Coney Island contest attracts TV audiences in excess of 1.5 million, and there is serious fame and fortune to be found as a speed-eating competitor throughout the USA and in Japan. At the highest level the ‘sport’ is governed by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), which seeks to expand its popularity and maintain standards of safety.

The current record for the Fourth of July competition stands at 68 hot dogs (sausage and bun!) consumed in 12 minutes. Contests are generally restricted to 8, 10, 12 or 15 minutes to avoid putting undue strain on the body and to keep the attention of spectators. This is a sport in which both men and women can compete – and indeed, two of the top ten speed eaters in recent years (sometimes charmingly referred to as ‘gurgitators’) have been women. A surprisingly comprehensive set of rules has been worked out over the years. First off, all competitors must be over 18. Dunking of food into water or other drinks to soften them is allowed, as is ‘chipmunking’ (when an eater crams as much food as possible into his or her mouth at the last second). To win, you will need to be highly coordinated so that you can grab, dunk and consume all at the same time. Vomiting during or for a set period after the contest results in immediate disqualification.

The best speed eaters undoubtedly train their stomachs to expand. However, this is not something to be undertaken lightly – artificially expanding your stomach can lead to permanent damage. The IFOCE does not support training at home – it insists that any such exercises should take place in a controlled environment, after consultation with your doctor and with a medic on hand.

Stuffing your face with food obviously causes weight gain so competitors should undertake regular exercise to ensure they stay trim. Some also chew gum in a bid to improve the flexibility of their jaw, and one leading eater declared that his training had resulted in an arthritic jaw!