Thousands of hot dog lovers and competitive eating enthusiasts made the pilgrimage to Coney Island this Fourth of July for the annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Two reigning champs downed enough dogs to hold their titles. In the women’s, Miki Sudo ate 40 after sitting out last year while pregnant. And in the men’s, Joey Chestnut devoured 63. It wasn’t his personal best, but the crowd still erupted in cheers when he took his final, victorious bites.
Chestnut briefly stopped eating to tackle a protester who stormed the stage. Police arrested three people connected to the protest, the NYPD said.
But for the most part, the vibes on Coney Island were light and breezy, with a hearty dose of nitrates. The crowd was peppered with all types of hot dog apparel: hats, T-shirts and, for those willing to schvitz, full-body suits.
The hot dog eating competition celebrated American independence with a mix of traditional standards, like the singing of the national anthem, and other musical acts to showcase the country’s melting pot of cultures, including a rap battle with musician/competitive eater Eric James “Badlands” Booker (who later won a lemonade chugging competition), a Bollywood dancing routine and even some opera.
Damon Coleman, 41, and his daughter Jenna Hackart, 23, drove two-and-a-half hours from Pennsylvania to see people down hot dogs. They’ve been watching the competition on TV for years and decided that this time they wanted to feel the excitement in person.
“I don’t know how they do it. I don’t think I could do it. It’s a lot of hot dogs to eat,” Hackart said. “ And as fast as they eat them, I don’t think I could do it. I would probably throw up.”
The pair were dressed in mustard yellow T-shirts professing their love for wieners. While Hackart likes her dogs with bacon and cheese, Coleman said he’ll only eat them with all the fixings. He said his personal record is 10 dogs in a day.
Leore Lavin was happy to be back in a crowd of New Yorkers after the isolation of the pandemic. The 28-year-old medical student said she’s been following the champ Chestnut for years. This year, she wanted to see him compete in person.
“The record was 76. He didn’t quite make it there, so that was a little disappointing,” she said. “But it was exciting.”
Lavin was surprised by how fit the competitive eaters seemed to be and how they managed to consume so many dogs in the heat. She personally likes to eat hers with ketchup and whole wheat bun, though she said those can be hard to find.
Friends Noah Ginsberg and Emi Powers decided to make their first trip to Coney Island for the competition after watching it on TV growing up.
Ginsberg said he didn’t know what to expect going into it.
“It honestly was more absurd than I thought with the opera singer and Bollywood dancers, rap battle,” he said. “But it was fun!”
Powers was a bit overwhelmed by the crowds, but still happy to be there.
“I’m glad that I did it. It was fun,” she said. “I think it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The 22-year-olds were a bit grossed by what they had watched.
“It was vile,” Ginsberg said.
“I think it’s the wet bread that really gets me,” she said.
The two weren’t sure whether they’d be able to stomach their own hot dogs once they got to the front of the line.
But if they couldn’t channel their inner Joey Chestnut, they figured they would at least enjoy some French fries.