LOS ANGELES, May 8 (UPI) -- The competitive eating season kicked off Saturday with the first hot dog eating contest, in Los Angeles, to decide who would attend the July 4 championships.
Saturday's event in Los Angeles is the first of 13 run-off races in the United States for those hoping to earn one of 20 spots at the table for the Coney Island tradition, Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest.
Japan's Takeru Kobayashi is up for his fourth world champion title. He won the world record in 2002 when he ate 50 and one-half Nathan's hotdogs in 12 minutes. Kobayashi weighs 144 pounds, according to a release by event sponsor Nathan's Famous Inc.
His most fearsome opponent is "dominant American eater" 36-year-old Sonya Thomas of Alexandria, Va., the company reports. Thomas weighs in at 100 pounds, and ate 25 hot dogs and buns in last year's contest, her second.
The contest "epitomizes the spirit associated with the start of summer each year," Wayne Norbitz, president and chief operating officer of Nathan's Famous, said in the statement.