By Arnie Leshin
And down and down they went, world champion Joey Chestnut just kept gobbling them down. His 10th consecutive title at his familiar Fourth of July stage in Coney Island at Nathan’s Famous International World Hot Dog championship.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic that includes social distancing, the event in the Brooklyn borough of New York didn’t draw its usual shoulder-to-shoulder cheering crowd, and Chestnut did say he missed this.
Still, he broke away from a tight early start among the five competitors to pull away each minute of the scheduled 10 and push 75 hot dogs down in a world-record announced by event commentator/host George Shea.
Now 36 years old, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Chestnut hails from San Jose, Calif., and debuted at popular Coney in 2005. Since then he has taken first place 13 times, all coming at an average of 67 franks going down the hatch. With three minutes remaining Saturday, he said he hit a wall, but that the well-cooked hot dogs kept him going.
“It was close early on,” he said as the sweat poured down on this 80-degree sunny day. “There was no crowd to pump me up, but once I opened the lead, I felt comfortable, but I also missed the usual hugging of strangers.”
But he did go elbow-to-elbow with the other entries and the event officials.
Right on, it went from a 3-way fie at eight hot dogs each to Chestnut already leading the short field with 40 doggies with six minutes to go. A minute later he had 46. At four minutes, he had 52, and 57 with three minutes left. Shea was pushing for a big finish when Chestnut hit the last minute with 68 downed, and he made it to 75, two better than his previous best.
It was a double win for him. This time he brought his girl friend Micki Sudo and she began the event with a victorious record 48 1/2 hot dogs, four more than the previous best by a woman. She said she owed it all to Joey because she gathered in all the advise he provided, and was very happy to join him in the winner’s circle.
In the main event, Nick Wehrer placed second with 48, third, with 37, was Eric “Badman” Booker, fourth was Dave Chigel with 31, and fifth came Eric Barnett with 30. Last year, Chestnut topped the field by 21 hot dogs.
“I thought I should have done better today,” he said while having the championship buckle wrapped around his waist, and with the championship trophy at his side and Sudo leading the cheers. “I guess I need to train a little more.’
Chestnut added that he enjoys donating his prize money to charities, said he’s been doing this since his first victory here.
Moon pies, pizzas, oysters, chicken, ribs, sausages, cheese curds, and other foods have also been com petitions of these gobblers, but on Indepndence Day the place to be is where it’s at — Nathans Famous on busy Stillwell Avenue.
And once again, it was the familiar look of Joey Chestnut pushing hot dogs down in what could be the most popular of all eating contests around the world, and at the oldest of all sites only a block from the (Atlantic) Ocean, and with rides and more rides on each street, the Cyclone roller coaster the oldest and most known and two blocks from Nathans.
Wonder if the riders can smell Nathan’s mustard hot dogs as they ride up and down the steep tracks?