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Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest contenders face off in Borough Hall weigh-in

Defending Champs Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo Joined Competitors in Pre-Contest Weigh-in

July 6, 2017 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut holding a Mustard Belt. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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The unmistakable odor of street-level charcuterie filled Borough Hall on the morning of July 3 as crews from Nathan’s Famous shuttled platters of cooked hot dogs and steam-heated buns into the building’s main reception area. A long table covered in Nathan’s Famous’ yellow and blue tablecloth held familiar icons — bun-shaped paper hats, yellow mustard championship belts and, of course, hot dogs…lots of them.

While registered Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating contestants — recognizable in white T-shirts with red Nathan’s Famous lettering on the front — chatted with supporters and members of the press, Major League Eating founder and President George Shea bustled about wearing his trademark Jazz-Age straw boater hat and cheerful energy, ensuring that everything was in place for the now traditional pre-gorge weigh-in.

As the official count-down to the event on Nathan’s Famous website reached 24 hours, members of the press assembled in front of the borough president’s lectern, alongside which had been set a physician’s scale. Shea approached the microphone, with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams standing respectfully back and to one side.

It was time.

“It is said that competitive eating is the battleground on which God and Lucifer wage war for men’s souls — and they are right, my friends!” George Shea declared, in that splendid, exuberant hyperbole he’s perfected over the years.

Prime contenders Joey Chestnut, Matt Stonie, Miki Sudo and Michelle Lesco took turns on the scale. Their weights were carefully measured, announced and recorded. After the weigh-ins, each set of rivals engaged in a stare-off lasting several minutes. Chestnut and Stonie quickly devolved into giggles, while Sudo and Lesco wound up stuffing each other’s mouths with hot dogs like aggressive newlyweds wielding slices of a wedding cake.

“This year, Joey’s going to eat 70-plus,” Shea predicted. “Matt’s going to do about 60-plus.”

“Yeah,” Stonie nodded, when asked about Shea’s prediction that at-best he’d be looking for second place. “This is definitely Joey’s year. I feel OK and everything, but I’m not getting to 70.”

“I never underestimate Matt,” Chestnut said, looking surprised to hear himself essentially declared a shoo-in. “I don’t take anything for granted, because I know what he’s capable of.”

At the event on Tuesday, Chestnut captured his 10th Mustard Belt by eating an event-record 72 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Stonie finished third with 48 hot dogs and buns, while Carmen Cicotti nabbed the second-place spot eating 62 franks and buns.

“You never know,” Lesco said when asked how she thought her chances stacked up against defending three-time Women’s Champion Miki Sudo. Although she placed third in last year’s eating competition, just behind runner-up Sonya Thomas, Lesco is also the first woman to beat Thomas, which she did in 2013. But, even so, her number of 27 hot dogs and buns in 2016 was still more than 10 back from Sudo’s 38.5.

Sudo also set a personal record Tuesday by downing 41 hot dogs and buns to win her fourth consecutive title. Lesco finished second with 32.5 dogs and buns.

With its traditional origins in a bet between two immigrant wiener aficionados in 1916, Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest has grown to become a major event, broadcast internationally by ESPN and seen live by thousands who fill the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues hours ahead of the start in order get a good viewing position. This year’s competition was no different.

Nathan’s Famous also donated 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City prior to the contest. This year’s donation brings the total to 1 million donated hot dogs over the past decade. In spite of the company’s largesse, past contests have been infiltrated by anti-meat protests, including last year’s when activists attempted to pour fake blood over the contestants before being dragged away by NYPD. This year, police interrupted demonstrators attempting to unfold a black banner and took them to a precinct to be questioned.


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