Hot dog eating champs all set for July Fourth contest

Story highlights

  • Joey Chestnut and Sonya Thomas are the male and female champions respectively
  • Thomas is seeking to hold on to her title -- a record breaking 41 hot dogs and buns
  • "My record is 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes," Chestnut says
The two reigning champs of a hot dog eating contest joined their challengers for a weigh-in as they hope to devour their way into the record books Wednesday in New York City.
Joey "Jaws" Chestnut and Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, the male and female champions respectively, will defend their titles at the annual event in Brooklyn.
Chestnut and Sonya attended the weigh-in Tuesday, a day before the competition. Chestnut weighed in at 210 pounds while his female counterpart was 100 pounds.
And both competitors are ready to eat their way into first place -- again.
"My record is 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes and I'm going to break it hopefully just by eating it like a beast," said Chestnut, who is vying for his sixth title.
Thomas is seeking to hold on to her title, a record breaking 41 hot dogs and buns.
"My technique is I dunk two hot dogs in the water cup and then eat," she said.
The contest started nearly 100 years ago as a sideshow on the notorious boardwalk in Coney Island. All that changed when Nathan's Famous Restaurant saw the draw it had for the boardwalk, and especially the eatery.
Up until last year, men and women competed together, but now have separate divisions.
"It's an American institution. America is able to celebrate freedom -- its rights, its freedoms, all of the joys that comes with that -- by eating hot dogs in the most absurd practice ever in mankind's history and it's a great day," said George Shea, who along with his brother Richard Shea and partner David Baer took competitive eating to a new level.
The three introduced the coveted mustard yellow championship belt, arranging for ESPN to telecast the competition live and promoting the "eaters" as professional athletes.
In addition to Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Sheas have organized other competitions as well, which they have dubbed Major League Eating.
Other contests include oysters, hamburgers, cheese steak, baby back ribs, buffalo wings, jalapenos, asparagus, meatballs, catfish and corned beef.
"I have never been more excited and I'm not just saying that," Shea said, "When I see Joey Chestnut -- he's an American hero, people flock around him -- they flock around Sonya -- I get goosebumps on my hands and realize the Fourth of July is here."
In past years, Major League Eating hyped up the gastric rivalry between Chestnut and another serial holder of the mustard yellow belt, Takeru Kobayashi.
Kobayashi set his first record at his debut Nathan's competition in 2001 by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He went on to take home the title through 2006.
In the years since, he has not participated in the contest because of a contract dispute with Major League Eating. The league places restrictive limits on endorsement and remuneration, his representatives said, and Kobayashi did not want to play along.
In 2010, Kobayashi was arrested when he stormed the stage at the competition. Last year, he contested from afar: on the roof of a Manhattan bar at the same time as Nathan's contest.
Kobayashi polished off 69 hot dogs and buns to the tune of a crowd chanting "Kobi! Kobi!" as the official Nathan's contest played on a television beside him, unofficially beating Chestnut's record.
This year, Kobayashi is participating in a separate contest all together. The new contest is named for a newer New York hot dog institution, Crif Dogs, which started in 2001.
The Crif Dog Classic will take place at Roberta's, a restaurant with its own growing reputation in Brooklyn's hip Bushwick neighborhood, just as Nathan's eaters compete in Coney Island.
"You know we have asked Kobi probably two dozen times to come sit ... we have said let's sit, let's figure this out; we owe the world a rematch. He doesn't want to do that, I respect him," Shea said.
Despite other competitions, Shea said, no one can challenge Nathan's.
"You know that the World's Hot Dog Eating Champion is crowned in Coney Island and nowhere else, and that's where he'll be crowned," he said.
Both hot dog eating bouts are sure to be exciting, and have drawn the attention of many in New York City.
Addressing crowds at the weigh-in Tuesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got in the spirit, rattling off a string of hot dog puns-- "dogged," "catch up," "cut the mustard" and "pronounced wiener."