NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — They are the “chompions.”
Joey “Jaws” Chestnut took home the Mustard Belt for the fifth year in a row at the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Competition on Coney Island. Chestnut was dogged by some stiff competition: Peter Bertoletti, of Chicago, kept pace with Chestnut throughout much of the competition. In the last few minutes, though, Chestnut broke out ahead of Bertoletti, keeping a comfortable four dog lead.
Chestnut ate 62 dogs.
“I came out here to win, did what I needed to do,” Chestnut said. “I feel great.”
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas is the first winner of the women’s division. Thomas ate 40 hot dogs in ten minutes.
It is the first time the storied competition has had a women’s division.
Thomas had been the favorite prior to the competition. Thomas is 5’5″ and weighs 105 pounds. She smoked her nearest challenger, Juliette Lee, who ate 29 dogs. Thomas takes home the coveted pink Pepto Bismol belt.
WCBS 880′s Ginny Kosola reports: Thomas First Women’s Hot Dog Eating Champion
“I’m so excited,” she said in an interview after the competition. “I’m so happy.”
But is she stuffed?
“I could eat something else later,” Thomas said.
Longtime rival Takeru Kobayashi wasn’t at the competition Monday. Kobayashi crashed last year’s contest and was arrested. Since he is unwilling to sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating, he wasn’t officially competing. He did, however, eat along with the contestants from a separate location in Manhattan, downing dogs during the telecast.
Unofficially, he ate 69 hot dogs, which would be a new record.
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In the 2009 competition, Chestnut beat the previous record of 59 hot dogs and buns by eating 68 hot dogs, which set a world record. Last year, he took home the belt after consuming 54 hot dogs in 10 minutes – which he described as a disappointing performance.
Chestnut fasted ahead of Monday’s event. As he took the stage to compete, he said “I feel like a big American eating machine.”
Chestnut said that despite eating an estimated 20,000 calories during contests, his diet and exercise regimen when he’s not training for a competition – combined with doctor check-ups – would allow him to continue competing for a few more years.
“It’s absolutely a sport and it has the attendance of a sport, and these guys are athletes for sure,” said George Shea.
The contest is a bonanza for the fast-food company. As the eaters expanded their gastric capabilities, the event’s popularity soared. Likewise have sales of Nathan’s hot dogs.
Last year, over 453 million franks were sold, almost doubling sales in 2003.
“This is one of the greatest marketing stunts ever put forth in the United States,” said Rich Shea of Major League Eating.
It’s a natural for Nathan’s, which first opened at the fun-filled amusement park 96 years ago.
In the late 1970′s, the contest was just another Coney Island sideshow, thought up by PR stuntman Max Rosey.
“We waited for a couple of fat guys to walk by. We asked if they wanted to eat hot dogs in a contest. They said yes,” he said.
Max’s protege George Shea and his brother Rich are the marketing men who have brought competitive eating into the modern era.
They’ve created a phenomenon by introducing the coveted mustard yellow championship belt, having ESPN cover the event, and by promoting the eaters as professional athletes.
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And there’s a new rivalry between the U.S. and China: Chinese eaters were flown in to Coney Island, just when Nathan’s happens to be embarking on a major expansion in China.
“If they take the belt, they are going to be eating our lunch, literally,” Rich Shea said before the competition.
The Sheas have qualifying events across the country and sponsors for other eating events: chicken wings, oysters, and hamburgers, all party of major league eating.
Nathan’s stock tripled in the past seven years. The company also donates 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City.
What do you think of the tradition: disgusting, All-American, or both? Is Kobayashi the true champion? Sound off in our comments section below…