Patrick Bertoletti and Miki Sudo win Nathan’s famous hot dog eating contest

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

The contest has long been a fixture in New York City, and the worldwide television coverage has made celebrities of its most famous champions. But this year’s event, which tests “competitive eaters” on how many hot dogs they can scarf down in 10 minutes, crowned the first men’s champion in nearly a generation and set a new women’s record.

Patrick Bertoletti, 26, of Chicago, took the men’s title – or, in Coney Island parlance, the Mustard Belt – by eating 58 hot dogs in 10 minutes, while Miki Sudo, 38, ate 51 hot dogs, setting a new women’s record.

Former men’s champion Joey Chestnut, 40, won the competition 16 times but was disqualified after a disagreement with organizers. Mr. Bertoletti was the world’s ninth-ranked eater for the competition, according to Major League Eating, and he beat out several competitors who were being promoted by event organizers as potential successors to Mr. Chestnut.

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

He described winning as a life-changing event.

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

Mr. Chestnut retired from the competition last month after signing a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods, a competitor of Nathan’s that makes vegan hot dogs.

But he dominated Thursday’s match, in one case literally: a huge Pepsi ad bearing his image hung just one block from the match venue.

Many spectators also wore Chestnut memorabilia and chanted or held up signs begging for his return. Mark Sterling, 35, did a brisk business selling Chestnut bobblehead dolls to the crowd for $35.

“Why wouldn’t you want a bobblehead of a legend?” said Mr. Sterling, from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. “Joey Chestnut is gone, it’s like people saying Derek Jeter is gone from Yankee Stadium — people still love him.”

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, Ms. Sudo easily won the title for the 10th time, beating out a group of competitors, some of whom 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 finisher Mayoi Ebihara of Japan ate 37 hot dogs.

As Ms. Sudo ate two hot dogs at once, an ESPN commentator was inspired to say, “Her style is like the prose of Eudora Welty,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning 20th-century novelist who is not known to have eaten 51 hot dogs in one sitting.

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 grand master of ceremonies, described Ms. Sudo as a woman whose “soul shines like magnesium on fire against the dark mountain of night.”

Nonna Titulauri, 31, a banking intern who lives in the East Village, said she was happy to witness a new world record for women. But her friend, Christina DeCarlo, was less amused.

“It’s kind of gross,” said Ms. DeCarlo, 33, a project manager who lives in Midtown. “I just want to understand, who decided this is a thing?”

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 that Mr. Chestnut’s sponsorship deal left Major League Eating, which bills itself as “the umbrella organization for all stomach-focused sports,” with 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 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 local 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 in turn became synonymous with the event. As weigh-ins began on Wednesday, Mr. Shea reiterated 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 would travel to Fort Bliss in El Paso to compete against soldiers in a five-minute hot dog eating contest. The event would 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 race may have put him out of the Nathan’s competition — for now, at least — but James Webb, a former Australian professional soccer player who got into competitive eating “as a joke,” said in an interview Wednesday that everyone in the contest hoped to achieve some version of celebrity status. Mr. Webb finished third on Thursday after eating 51.75 hot dogs.

“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.”

Nate Schweber contributed to the reporting.

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