It is the most glamorous and glorified event on the professional eating circuit.
Top prizes are awarded at other contests for eating pizza, tacos, strawberry shortcake and other foods, but Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York's Coney Island remains the granddaddy of them all.
This year's championship contest will be held July 4, and it will be televised on the ESPN family of networks. The women's event will be broadcast at 10:50 a.m. on ESPN3, while the men's event will be shown on ESPN2 at noon. It will also re-air at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Yes, there is prize money, as $20,000 is paid to the top men and another $20,000 is paid to the most accomplished women. It breaks down as follows:
- First place: $10,000
- Second place: $5,000
- Third place: $2,500
- Fourth place: $1,500
- Fifth place: $1,000
However, this contest is about a lot more than money and awards. It is the victory and the accomplishment that means the most to its participants.
Last year, 35,000 fans attended the eating contest and another 1.11 million watched ESPN's broadcast.
The 2017 winners were Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo, two of the most famous carnivores in the sport of competitive eating. Chestnut is the sport's all-time record holder, as he consumed 73.5 hot dogs in the 2016 event, and he came close to that last year when he downed 72 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes.
Sudo pummeled 41 hot dogs as she dominated the women's event last year. She made a strong run at Sonya Thomas' record of 45 hot dogs eaten in 2012.
The five top-ranked eaters in the world are Chestnut, Carmen Cincotti, Matt Stonie, Geoffrey Esper and Sudo, according to Major League Eating.
Prior to Chestnut's ascension to the throne in men's competitive eating at Nathan's, Japanese superstar Takeru Kobayashi became one of the sport's legends. The slender eater won the event from 2001 through 2006 before Chestnut took the title in 2007.
Since that victory, Chestnut has won 10 of the 11 Nathan's events. He suffered a dramatic upset in 2015 when Stonie got the best of him by taking down 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Chestnut came back with an iron-stomach vengeance to set his record the following year.
Women have been eating hot dogs on a competitive basis at the event since 2011. Thomas won the first three championships, while Sudo has won the last four.
The sport—although some critics refuse to label competitive eating as an athletic contest—was held in 1972 and was won by Jason Schechter who ate a modest 14 hot dogs.
The eating levels stagnated in the early years, and it hit its nadir in 1980 when Paul Seiderman and Joe Baldini both consumed a paltry nine hot dogs to share the title. Surely many readers of this story could approach or exceed that total, or at least know a friend who could do so with little trouble.
Frank Dellarosa crossed an important threshold in 1991 when he polished down 21.5 hot dogs, becoming the first trencherman to eat 20 or more hot dogs at the event. Ed Krachie broke his record in 1996 with 22.25 hot dogs, and that was followed by record-setting efforts by Hirofumi Nakajima (24.5 in 1997) and Kazutoyo Arai (25.125 in 2000).
A year later, Kobayashi set a new standard in the event when he ate a remarkable 50 Nathan's Famous hot dogs in the 10-minute time span.
Kobayashi's performance gave the sport a jolt of publicity, and it has been in the limelight ever since. He remains something of a mythical figure, as he disappeared from the Coney Island boardwalk after the 2009 event as he was in a contract dispute with Major League Eating.
The sport has contintued to thrive without him, even though he is a legend of the sport.
That's testimony to the grip that hot dog eating has on the United States, especially on July 4.