Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition at Coney Island, NY
This July 4th I spent my afternoon on Coney Island where Nathan’s held its 97th annual Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Known as a home-away from-home New York vacation spot, for its pre-World War II era amusement park and Brighton beach, Coney Island annually hosts tens of thousands of spectators who gather to gawk at contestants cramming as many hot dogs down their throat as possible in 10 minutes. I took my friend Stephen because I was too intimidated to go alone. Sure it’s Independence Day and New Yorkers are certainly independent, but a landmark event like this screams to be a shared experience and memory. Besides, we New Yorkers take our hot dogs seriously.
With a barrage of “excuse me’s”, Stephan and I made our way to the press section but not without pressing against dozens of people along the way. It was so crowded, Times Square would be jealous of all the attention. Excitement built as everyone counted down and the Men’s competition began at 12:30PM. All eyes turned to the stage.
The process of competitive hot dog eating is fascinating. Contestants strategically dip the entire dog into water, slurp up the soggy buns, and quickly chew the dog for a few seconds before swallowing. One down, another fifty to go, no throwing up allowed. Make that sixty for reigning incumbent Joey Chestnut of San Jose, who won for the 6th year with 68 hot dogs, beating his main rival Tim Janus by 16 dogs and winning a $10,000 cash prize. Despite the sweltering summer heat, he ate his 6.8 hot dogs per minute like a champ on a mission. Ten minutes never felt so intense.
Following Chestnut was Tim Janus of New York with 52 hot dogs, who received $5,000. Janus was so cool; he wore a Nacho Libre mask the whole time and even bared his surprisingly not too bulgy belly to show off his girlfriend Haley’s name in black Sharpie marker. Patrick Bertoletti of Chicago took third place with 51 dogs and a $2,500 cash prize. Bertoletti rocked a Mohawk, slick Aviators, and an American flag printed speedo, a brave man.
After the competition concluded and the victors were declared, I was permitted to go on stage with the rest of the press, where I took pictures of 68 hot dogs up close and the sweaty, exuberant crowd down below. Joey Chestnut and Sonya ‘The Black Widow’ Thomas – the women’s champion with 45 dogs – allowed themselves to be interviewed and photographed by the top networks and yours truly. His and her championship belts gleamed in the sun, and their owners could not have looked any different. Chestnut is a tall, muscly 200+ pounds while Sonya couldn’t have weighed more than 100 pounds, standing around 5’5”. You really can’t judge a book by its cover at this competition.
Before Chestnut disappeared in the crowd, I managed to squeeze in a question, asking him what his plans were after the competition. “A shower and beer,” he said. A champion does what a champion wants.
Helen Zuo is a lifestyle blogger at Helen Hearts, where she writes about food, design, and New York City living. She takes fabulous photos with her iPhone. Follow her on Twitter at @helen_zuo.