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A chat with two legends

By engobulation editor Tracy 'Mmm Mmm' Goode

Posted March 20, 2015
a-train and big brian
Adios amigos: A-Train (left) and Big Brian (right) are hanging up their forks. © Aaron Osthoff; MLE

Aaron 'A-Train' Osthoff and 'Big' Brian Subich talk to Tracy 'Mmm Mmm' Goode about the greatest sport on Earth.

If you go to Major League Eating's (MLE) website you will find in the Eater Rankings section a tab labelled Hall Of Fame.

While this page is currently blank, you can't help but think if there was indeed a bricks-and-mortar MLE Hall of Fame somewhere along the Boardwalk of Coney Island, among the sideshows and hot dog stands, what former eating greats of days past would be enshrined in the hallowed halls of greatness?

Ed 'Cookie' Jarvis?

'Hungry' Charles Hardy?

Rich 'the Locust' and Carlene LeFevre?

Two great eaters who have recently stepped away from the table could both arguably have their names cemented in a future Hall of Greatness.

'Big' Brian Subich, who ate his last meal as a Major League Eater at Ben's Chili Bowl World Chili Eating Championship in DC on October 22, 2014.

Also putting his knife and fork down and taking the bib off is Aaron 'A-Train' Osthoff, who announced his retirement from MLE on Twitter on January 10 to "focus on making my kid's dreams come true and helping out some local charities with this 'special' talent of mine".

Between these giants of gurgitation they have qualified for six Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contests and competed in well over a hundred events.

I recently spoke with both these men about competing on and off the battlefield of hunger, retirement and the future of our great sport.

a-train hot dogs
Hot dog dispatcher: A-Train enjoying his breakfast. © Aaron Osthoff

Let me start with the softball questions: year started, first event and what got you into competitive eating to begin with?

A-TRAIN: I started in 2010 and my first MLE contest was brats in Cincinnati, Ohio.

My wife signed me up for a local nacho eating contest and that's where I found out that I was 'blessed' with a special talent.

Before that though, I was fascinated with competitive eating.

I watched the Nathan's contest every 4th of July in sheer amazement.

I watched Crazy Legs Conti's documentary Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating in 2010 and became inspired to try to qualify for Nathan's.

BIG BRIAN: 2003 was my very first year, I believe.

My first MLE event was a wing eating contest at Quaker Steak & Lube in Pittsburgh.

I finished fourth behind [David] 'Coondog' O'Karma, 'Krazy' Kevin Lipsitz and Dominic 'the Doginator' Cardo.

I got into competitive eating on a bet with a co-worker.

He was actually very interested in it and kept challenging me to race him.

I kept putting him off until he offered to put up $20 [£13.60] and buy the McDonald's double cheeseburgers.

Needless to say, I beat him, took his $20 and started my journey.

Why Retire Now?

BIG BRIAN: A couple of reasons.

I just turned 40 years old and I just had no interest or energy to push my body to those limits anymore.

The other is that I'm planning on running for political office (District Magistrate Judge) in a couple of years.

I was on the City Council of my hometown a few years back and I'm looking forward to going back into helping city residents.

A-TRAIN: I had three goals when I started: to get signed by MLE, to make it to the Nathan's finals and to be ranked in the Top 10.

I did all that and lived my dream.

I have three wonderful children and now I am going to focus on making their dreams come true.

It really came down to what my top priority needed to be and that is the kids right now.

You both played high school football. You both are highly competitive by nature. What do you say to someone who doesn't consider competitive eating a sport?

I say they're wrong.

I played football in high school and college and have coached football in high school for the past 12 years.

The effort and strain put on the human body in competitive eating is extreme by any standard equal to football or any other sport.

As with any other sport, if you want to be good at competitive eating you have to work it at, plan, strategise, practise, etc.

As you know, people who just walk off the street and think they have a chance of beating a Top 25 eater, it's just not very likely.

If people truly knew what we put our bodies through to compete at the highest level of competitive eating, they would consider it a sport.

Plus, if it's televised on ESPN, it's a sport!

Speaking of ESPN and Nathan's, how do you feel ESPN treats competitive eating (with tape delays/not showing the women's championship on TV/no other contests televised)? Do you see more contests being televised in the future?

I think it definitely can improve but with ESPN showing more events on ESPN3, they are headed in the right direction.

BIG BRIAN: First and foremost, I think it should be broadcast live.

Of course, I'm biased, however.

ESPN makes a business decision and I guess they figure more people will watch tennis (although I can't find one) rather than the Nathan's finals.

As for the women, they should also absolutely be broadcast live as well.

The female eaters amaze me even more than the men.

I don't see any more contests being televised in the near future... but I've wondered what would happen if, say, a huge sponsor offered [Takeru 'the Tsunami'] Kobayashi and [Joey 'Jaws] Chestnut say a $10m prize.

I gotta think ESPN would want to carry that.

And with regards to Joey and Kobi, finish this statement: Joey Chestnut was to Kobayashi as _____________ will be to Joey. Or do you believe they are even?

I think they are even.

I think on any given day each could beat the other.

The lone exception is hot dogs, where Joey has proven he surpassed Kobayashi.

But pretty much any other food I think is a tossup.

It's the most compelling storyline in competitive eating.

Unfortunately, we don't get to see it.

It's almost like Pacquiao/Mayweather.

A-TRAIN: Nobody.

He [Joey] is the best ever!

Who do you see (if anyone) will break Joey's Nathan's streak of eight consecutive wins?

I think the title is his until he retires.

BIG BRIAN: Matt ['Megatoad'] Stonie is the only one on the scene right now that even has a chance.

He's super focused and he obviously has a boatload of talent.

I think Joey has done to all the current eaters what Kobayashi did before him and that is make everyone believe they don't even have a chance.

If Stonie actually truly believes he can win, he could pull it off.

How do you see the future of competitive eating? Who stands out in your mind as the next A-Train, Big Brian or, dare to say it, Joey Jaws?

The guy I thought had the best chance to shake things up would be Marcos ['the Monster'] Owens.

Most people don't know he's a workout fiend... and when he's focused and training hard at competitive eating he's a Monster.

I thought if he put 100% effort into training for competitive eating, the sky would be the limit for him.

As for the future of competitive eating, I think it's in good hands.

There's a good cross section of eaters.

A-TRAIN: He's already a star but Stonie is the future.

He is so young and so good.

Otherwise, I'm waiting for the next breakout star to crack the Top 10.

Possibly Juan 'More Bite' [Rodriguez] or maybe [Brian] 'Dud light' [Dudzinski].

Both had awesome showings at last year's Nathan's.

Big Brian and his son
Like father, like son: Big Brian and his son Nick. © Brian Subich

What advice do you give to aspiring eaters?

Pay your dues at your local contests.

Get all the experience you can without having to account for travel costs.

Ask advice.

Most pros are more than willing to help you out.

Have a passion for it.

Don't let money be your driving factor because you are not going to get rich being a professional eater.

Most importantly, have fun with it.

The best thing that comes out of competitive eating are the friendships and the bonds you will make with the other eaters.

BIG BRIAN: Enjoy it.

If you're doing it simply for the money, then you're going to be disappointed because very few people make the big money.

I continued on for 11 years because of the friends I made, the relationships I built and the enjoyment from getting together with the friends I made.

My competitive eating friends are all good people who would truly give you the shirt off their backs.

In what ways would you (if anything) improve competitive eating?

Spread the wealth at contests.

The prize structures are too top heavy.

The Isle Casinos had it figured out where the Top 5 places all paid well.

More sponsors should follow that model.

BIG BRIAN: Two ways.

The first would be to filter some money down to eaters who don't finish in the Top 3 or 4.

It's really simple.

If you're a ranked eater and you're at a contest, you get say $100.

That's just enough to help guys with a hotel, gas, etc and make them feel a little appreciated.

At most that's a lousy $600 if there are 10 ranked eaters in a contest after the first four are paid.

The second would be to play up on more of the storylines, or 'feuds' so to speak, between the eaters.

Like Pro Wrestling?

Big Brian:

There are certainly plenty of personalities upon which to build that.

Take a guy like Dale ['Mouth of the South'] Boone.

Dale wasn't the greatest eater of all time, but no one can deny he was a showman.

Overalls, coonskin cap, cow bell... super-annoying yell.

People may not have remembered who won the contest but they remembered him.

Any last words of wisdom you'd like to add? Your farewell address if you will.

Well, I'd like to thank all the old school guys... 'Hungry' Charles Hardy, Don [Moses] Lerman, Rich Lefevre, 'Krazy' Kevin, 'Cookie' Jarvis, 'Beautiful' Brian [Seiken] and all those guys and many more who paved the way for me and all the current eaters.

If not for those guys, none of us would have been able to enjoy this wild crazy ride of competitive eating.

I was blessed to meet, hang out with and compete against every single major competitive eating star that there is and every one of them are good people.

Last, but not least, some might be surprised to know that the two most exciting things that happened for me in competitive eating involves my family.

The first was getting to root for my wife [Theresa Subich] when she qualified for the Nathans finals... standing in the crowd cheering for her.

The other was getting the chance to compete against my son [Nick Subich] in an MLE contest, which we did this last fall.

They both have been on the journey with me since I started 11 years ago... and I'm so grateful that they embraced my love of competitive eating with me, encouraged me, supported me and coached me with all their love.

It's been a blast and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything!

A-TRAIN: I'd like to thank MLE, who provided me with the opportunity to compete with the best in the world, make great friends and live my dream.

Thank you to all of the eaters that helped me along the way with support and advice.

They know who they are.

Extra special thanks to my family, who were always positive, encouraging and my biggest fans.

I loved knowing that I could always look into the crowd and see them cheering for me.

It was a great ride.

Peace out!

Oh, one last thing.

Baba Booey!

Baba Booey!

We wish good luck to both of these food fighters and thank them for helping pave the way for future eaters in this, our great sport. We also hope the Hall of Fame embraces them both with open arms.

See also An open letter to ESPN, posted 5/6/14.

Tracy 'Mmm Mmm' Goode
is a Major League Eating gurgitator with some damn fine taste in music. The Rake & Herald is honoured to have him write for us. Check out his YouTube channel here.

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