The Athletes Risking Death For Gastro Glory

Earlier this month a 41-year-old California man died after taking part in a taco-eating competition during a minor league baseball game.

He joins a number of fatalities in the sport of competitive eating.

In 2012, a 32-year-old man died whilst competitively eating roaches as a result of "asphyxia due to choking and aspiration of gastric contents” -- he was hoping to win a python.

In 2014, a 47-year old man died during a hot dog eating competition in South Dakota.  Also that year, a 53-year-old Ukrainian woman died of a heart attack mid-competition after scoffing 100 dumplings.

Woman Dies After Pancake Eating Competition

READ MORE: Competitor Dies During Taco-Eating Contest

In 2017, two people died over the same weekend in the United States due to competitive eating related accidents: one due to pancakes, the other, doughnuts.

But what are competitive eating competitions and how dangerous are they?

History Of Eating Competitions

Eating competitions have always existed to some extent. Edda, a collection of 13th-century Medieval Icelandic literary works describes an eating contest between the god Loki and his servant Thjalfi.

Formalised competitive eating has its origins in the United States (where else?) with the founding of Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest on Coney Island in 1916.

READ MORE: Do You Have The Appetite To Become A Competitive Eater?

Eating competitions are now a formalised sport, with international leagues and well-known stars such as record-holding US hot dog champion Joey Chestnut and Japanese competitor Takeru Kobayashi.

Joey 'Jaws' Chestnut takes out the 2019 Nathan's Famous Fourth Of July hot dog eating comp. (Image: Getty)
Takeru Kobayashi took out the same comp in 2001 and 2002. (Image: Getty)
Australia’s Eating Champion

Whilst eating competitions are most popular in the United States and Japan, their appeal has international reach. Competitive Eating Australia sanctions eating contests across the country and ranks Australia’s eating champions.

READ MORE: World Record 74 Hot Dogs Swallowed

For Australia’s current Number One, Cal ‘Hulksmashfood’ Stubbs, the sport allowed him to quit his job and earn money as a professional eater.

“I’ve always been competitive,” Stubbs, who got his start at a local pub competition, said.

“I’d much rather take on people than the food itself.”

Australia's champ. (Image: Supplied)

Stubbs’ career has taken him to eating competitions across 17 countries and clearly demonstrates that Australia has a stake in the international eating scene.

Competitive Eating Australia has a number of sanctioned eating events and challenges scheduled for this year including meat pie, sausage and pancake comps.

The Risks

Whilst some may criticise the sport for its decadent risks, the dangers of competitive eating are similar to other professional sports.

“There is a danger in any sport you play,” noted Stubbs, “but many of these deaths occur at amateur events.”

Clearly the biggest risk is the choking hazard, with professional events having ambulances on-site for emergencies.

READ MORE: Someone Just Ate 17 Metres Of Stinging Nettles To 'Win' The World Championships

There are also risks caused by stretching the limits of your stomach on a regular basis, with one paper in the journal Gastrointestinal Imaging noting morbid obesity, chronic nausea and even a ruptured stomach as possible maladies.

"Despite its growing popularity, competitive speed eating is a potentially self-destructive form of behaviour," the paper concluded, finding that competitors may eventually need to have all of or parts of their stomachs surgically removed.

The biggest risk is the choking hazard, with professional events having ambulances on-site for emergencies. (Image: Getty)

Stubbs notes that professional eaters train their stomachs for competitive events, drinking large amounts of water to stretch their stomachs over time.

“The guys that do it full time, train super hard,” he said.

READ MORE: Competitive Chilli Eaters

This training appears to not only give them a professional advantage, but also to limit the risks of ingesting an enormous quantity of food.

For those interested in getting involved in competitive eating, Stubbs has this advice: “take it easy”. He recommends checking out informal events first before diving into the amateur comps and then going into the big leagues.

For Australia’s competitive eaters, it seems, the only limit to success is a stomach lining.

Featured Image: Getty