Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Crowns Patrick Bertoletti as New Men’s Champion

It’s the Fourth of July in New York City and that can only mean one thing. No fireworks, sweaty subway rides, and family barbecues. It’s time for Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.

The contest has long been a holiday staple in New York and a must-see on TV across the country. But this year’s event, which tests “competitive eaters” on how many hot dogs they can scarf down in 10 minutes, has crowned a new male champion for the first time in nearly a generation.

Patrick Bertoletti, 26, of Chicago, captured the men’s title – or, in Coney Island parlance, the Mustard Belt – by eating 58 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

He took over the title from Joey Chestnut, 40, who won the competition 16 times but was disqualified from competing. Mr. Bertoletti was the ninth eater to enter the competition, according to Major League Eating, and he beat out several other competitors who were mentioned by the event’s organizers as potential successors to Mr. Chestnut.

“Always a bridesmaid and never a bride,” Mr. Bertoletti said after his victory. “But today I’m getting married.”

He described winning the competition as a life-changing event.

“With Joey gone, I knew I had a chance,” he added, referring to Mr. Chestnut. “I was able to unlock something and I don’t know where it came from.”

Despite his absence, Mr. Chestnut dominated Thursday’s proceedings. He was forced to step down from the competition last month after signing a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods, a rival to Nathan’s that makes vegan hot dogs.

Many viewers tuned in year after year to watch Mr. Chestnut go through a pile of hot dogs like a wood chipper. The news of his departure from the game was met with the kind of public fear you might expect from a major league baseball player, not a man who ate 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes on the Fourth of July.

In the women’s event on Thursday, 38-year-old Miki Sudo easily won her 10th title, beating a group of competitors who had traveled all the way from Japan and South Korea to Coney Island.

She ate 51 hot dogs in 10 minutes, setting a new women’s record and surpassing her 2023 total of 39.5 hot dogs. Second-place contestant Mayoi Ebihara of Japan ate 37 hot dogs on Thursday.

After her win, Ms. Sudo thanked her family and the Tampa dental school where she is studying to become a dental hygienist, and reflected on the pressures of being a mother, a student and a world-famous hot dog eater.

“You feel like you’re juggling,” she said. “You’re trying to balance everything.”

George Shea, the event’s emcee, described Ms. Sudo as a woman whose “soul shines like magnesium on fire against the dark mountain of night.”

In an interview last month, Mr. Shea, a charismatic showman who helped elevate this whole spectacle into the kind of event covered by The New York Times, said he was “devastated” by the Chestnut situation. Even Senator Chuck Schumer, a Brooklyn native, mourned what he called “‘impossibly’ hard-to-swallow news.”

Mr. Shea said Mr. Chestnut’s sponsorship deal left Major League Eating no choice but to ban him.

“It would be like when Michael Jordan came to Nike, who made his Air Jordans, and said, ‘I’m just going to represent Adidas,'” Shea said. “That just can’t happen.”

The contest, held outside Nathan’s Famous, the Coney Island hot dog stand that grew into a hot dog empire, will be replayed twice Thursday night on ESPN.

On Wednesday, the aspiring champions gathered in Midtown for the official weigh-in for the competition. (The competition does not divide competitors into weight classes, so it was unclear why anyone had to be weighed.)

James Webb, one of the hopefuls, said in an interview that he started competitive eating “as a joke” and is now a full-time content creator on social media, posting videos about food.

Mr Webb, a former professional footballer from Australia, seemed very happy to be in New York and said he hoped to one day have a career in the hospitality industry, like Mr Chestnut.

“Joey has set standards that we all strive to surpass,” he said. “Joey is like the Terminator.”

The hot dog eating contest is the kind of absurd public event that New York City has long been known for. Over the years, it has developed its own lore, canon, and epic heroes, of which Mr. Chestnut has long been the king.

According to suburban legend, the contest has been held annually since 1916, when Nathan Handwerker opened a hot dog shop on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island.

But like many legends, this one is largely myth. The contest actually began in the early 1970s, and in 2010, one of the original promoters, Mortimer Matz, admitted that he made up the origin story in “Coney Island pitchman style.”

In recent years, the event has been driven largely by the sausage puns and theatrical patriotism of Mr. Shea, who calls it “a celebration of freedom,” and by the star power of Mr. Chestnut.

The contest made him famous, and he became synonymous with the event in turn — meaning his specter hung over proceedings this year. As weigh-ins began on Wednesday, Mr. Shea rehearsed the story of Mr. Chestnut’s departure to the crowd before reassuring them that he would be welcome to return to the Coney Island event at any time.

Representatives for Mr. Chestnut did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

For those who still wanted to see Mr. Chestnut eat a disturbing number of hot dogs on the Fourth of July, he will travel to Fort Bliss in El Paso to compete against soldiers in a five-minute hot dog eating contest. The event will be streamed live on Mr. Chestnut’s YouTube channel at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

He will also star in a Labor Day hot dog eating contest, airing live on Netflix, alongside Takeru Kobayashi, another former Fourth of July hot dog champion who was ejected from the Coney Island contest in 2010 after a disagreement with Major League Eating.

Mr. Chestnut’s development may have taken him out of the Nathan competition — at least for now — but Mr. Webb said Wednesday that everyone in the competition hoped to achieve some measure of his celebrity status.

That’s why they spend the year training, eating and stretching their abs. (His method involves foam rolling his stomach, followed by a trip to a buffet, he said.)

“We’re all weird,” Mr. Webb said, as a person in a giant hot dog costume danced nearby for TV cameras set up beneath Vessel at Hudson Yards. “We’re all weird in our own way. But we’re incredibly competitive and we’re pretty disciplined. And that’s the part that people don’t see.”

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