He ate well in Maine

“Crazy Legs’’ Conti at a May qualifying trial in Atlantic City. “Crazy Legs’’ Conti at a May qualifying trial in Atlantic City. (Bobby Bank via Wire Image)
By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / July 6, 2011

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Something was missing at this year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, and that thing was Belmont-bred “Crazy Legs’’ Conti. Our hometown competitive eater, who usually sits at the table next to competitive eating champs such as Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi, didn’t attend this year’s Independence Day eating contest because he didn’t qualify. “I felt like Carl Yastrzemski running into a wall,’’ a calm Conti told us yesterday. Competitive eaters have three chances to qualify for the big competition on Coney Island, which this year was won by Chestnut. Conti failed to win qualifying trials in Atlantic City, Charlotte, N.C., and Hawthorne, Calif., so this year, he wound up spending his July Fourth like many of the rest of us - eating a big meal in Maine. “I ate lobster and drank Geary’s Pale Ale. If you ate a hot dog on the Fourth of July, you ate more [hot dogs] than me.’’ Conti told us that despite his setback this year, he’s not retiring. He used to liken himself to Shaquille O’Neal, but now that Shaq’s retired, he doesn’t use that comparison. “That’s not going to work for the metaphor anymore. I don’t know that there’s a Celtic past or present that occupies my mindset in competitive eating.’’ Unlike Shaq, Conti, who’s 40, says his age won’t slow him down. “I don’t think age affects either way. I think it’s really mind over stomach matter.’’ In the meantime, he’ll continue to bring competitive eating to the military. He said that one of his most rewarding experiences as an eater was bringing the sport to entertain troops at Guantanamo Bay.

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