Nathan’s Hot Dog-Eating Contest returns to the outdoors

July 6, 2021 Jaime DeJesus
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Chestunt: `It’s like a marathon runner running’

The Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Championship returned outdoors over the weekend, making the historic event look and feel a little more like normal than last year.

The event usually takes place on the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues. Last year, it was held indoors without a large audience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year,  Maimonides Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, hosted the contest before a limited in-person audience during the free, ticketed event.

Thirteen-time champion of the contest Joey Chestnut ate 76 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, beating his record last year of 75 hot dogs.

“It felt great,” he said after his victory in front of the crowd. “They were cheering. I started slowing down after minute six and they kept pushing me and didn’t give up on me. “

Following his victory, he explained his strategy and motivation during an interview on NBC’s Today Show.

“It’s like a marathon runner running,” Chestnut explained “Their body is telling them they’re tired but I’m ignoring certain feelings at the end of the contest. I know what I’m capable of. I love to eat.  I know afterwards I’m going to be bloaty for a day and a half, but I just need to put in those 10 minutes of work.”

On the women’s side, Michelle Lesco ate 30 3/4 hot dogs and buns, winning her first championship.

Women’s champion Michelle Lesco gets ready for competition Photos by Paul Martinka/Shea Communications

“I put on a lot of training but I started late after the COVID year,” she also told the Today Show following the victory. “It’s hard to find motivation when you’re trapped in your home and not going out. I didn’t feel confident or prepared or was even going to be close to where I could be. That crowd was insane and so motivating and so wonderful.”

She was also asked how she got into professional eating.

“We all kind of fall into it in different ways, and for me it’s because I’m a jerk,” she joked. “My guy friends wanted to try a burger challenge. They chickened out. I told them well I‘m just going to eat it so that you feel like babies for chickening out and it steamrolled from there. The next thing I know, I was a Nathan’s qualifier.”

This year, DraftKings and Bounty Paper Towels were official partners of the event. Nathan’s Famous donated 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City.

Organizers and hosts were happy with the event, but they also hope to bring it back to its original location, where as many as 30,000 fans usually make the pilgrimage to watch the event in person. 

“Next year, we plan to return to the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues, where we have held this event for generations,” said James Walker, Nathan’s Famous senior vice president for restaurants. 

“The Nathan’s Famous July 4 contest is synonymous with freedom and American resolve,” said contest host George Shea. “Last year we held the event in Nathan’s on the third floor, just for media and ESPN. It was difficult — no crowd. This year we are back — back to Surf and Stillwell next year. Are you with me?”

The question was met with cheers.

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