July 4, 2011 -- Capping a week when a new scientific report concluded that Americans were eating more, and more frequently, it took 10 minutes and 62 hot dogs for Joey Chestnut to win his fifth consecutive Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, N.Y.
Retaining the Mustard Belt once again, Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., has dominated the competition. He set the all-time record in 2009, downing 68 hot dogs and buns, the equivalent of 21,000 calories, in 10 minutes.
"I love hot dogs," said Chestnut, who after winning cooled his cheek with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, a competition sponsor. "There's a couple of foods that if you see me eat them in a contest, you can tell I like them. Grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken wings, ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza. I mean those, they go down like I was made to eat them."
Before there was Chestnut, there was Takeru Kobayashi, who won the contest for six consecutive years. Kobayashi split from Major League Eating and planned to stage his own show in Manhattan today.
The 96th annual hot dog eating contest brought out thousands to the corner of Stillwell and Surf Avenues -- "the Madison Square Garden of Gurgitation," in emcee George Shea's words -- in front of the original Nathan's Famous hot dog stand to witness a spectacle of spittle so gross one couldn't help but watch.
The scene included a man in a Dr. Seuss hat on stilts, a dancing plush hot dog named the Frankster and two guys in orange tank tops bouncing on a trampoline. Little Jimmy, a midget dressed as Uncle Sam sporting a thick, black handlebar mustache, danced the robot to "Love Train."
Many spectators came in their July 4 finest. There were men wrapped in U.S. flags chanting "USA, USA," and women wearing red, white and blue bikinis.
Patriotism was running higher than usual thanks to three new entrants from China, a sign that China is applying its thirst for economic power to competitive eating. One of the three -- inevitably nicknamed the Great Wall of China at home -- looked like a big eater. The other two looked, and ate, like government minders. None came close to threatening Chestnut, and the geopolitical subtext vanished.
For the first time, Nathan's sponsored separate competitions for men and women. Sonya Thomas of Alexandria, Va., took the Pepto-Bismol Pink Belt title in the first-ever competition for women, eating 40 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, one shy of her 2009 record.
The 100-pound woman never stopped moving during the contest, constantly bouncing and twisting her way to victory. She shoved hot dogs in her mouth with one hand, while cradling a cup of liquid to wash them down with the other. Her jaws and teeth shredded the sausages as if they were saplings being fed into a wood chipper.
Thomas, also known as "The Black Widow," was the odds-on favorite going into the contest. She set the women's record in 2009 by eating 41 hot dogs and buns during the joint competition.
The women's runner-up was rail-thin Juliet Lee -- "the Pippa Middleton of Maryland" -- and Michelle Lesco came in third. "I got the hiccups," she said in her post-contest stage interview.
The main event began with each man being introduced. After being introduced, each one carefully arranged his mise en place, filling large yellow Nathan's cups with his liquid of choice. Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti's appeared to be steaming red Kool-Aid, which over the ten minutes of eating covered his face, hands and torso.
The contest requires eaters to consume the entire hot dog and bun and any "reversal of fortune," Major League Eating's term for vomiting, results in an automatic disqualification.