If you accept the premise that hot dog eating is a sport, and that Joey “Jaws” Chestnut is an athlete, then there is arguably no more dominant athlete of this era.
Chestnut bettered his own record, set last year, by gobbling down 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes Sunday to win his 14th title at the annual Fourth of July contest sponsored by Nathan’s. Normally held at the eatery’s flagship location in Coney Island, this year’s installment was staged in front of several thousand attendees at a nearby minor league baseball field in New York because of coronavirus-related considerations.
As a measure of Chestnut’s dominance, runner-up Geoffrey Esper managed to down just 50 hot dogs in the allotted time. The third-place finisher, Nick Wehry, was credited with 44.
“It just felt good,” Chestnut, 37, said in an ESPN interview after his win. “Even if I was uncomfortable, having everybody cheer me and push me, it made me feel good.”
Last year’s contest was held at a private location without fans and with a shrunken field of contestants amid the pandemic. Chestnut’s total of 75 then bettered his 2018 mark of 74.
Now he has raised the bar yet again and reaffirmed his untouchable status in competitive eating’s most high-profile event. Chestnut more than lived up to the entertainingly hyperbolic introduction he received from Major League Eating’s George Shea, who proclaimed to the crowd that “the roar of his assault will sunder the dome of heaven to reach the ear of God himself.”
Chestnut’s 14 titles in the Nathan’s contest are more than twice as many as the next-most successful contestant, Japan’s Takeru Kobayashi, who won six straight from 2001 to 2006. Chestnut took over the crown the next year, inhaling 66 hot dogs in 12 minutes. Chestnut has won every year since then, except for 2015, when he was upset by Matt Stonie.
The women’s hot dog title was won this year by Michelle Lesco, who downed 30¾ in 10 minutes. Miki Sudo, the seven-time defending women’s champion, missed Sunday’s event because she is pregnant with a child fathered by Wehry. Sudo holds the women’s record with 48½ hot dogs devoured in 2020.
Chestnut holds over 50 Major League Eating records. Others include:
Buffalo Chicken Wings: 7.61 pounds in 12 minutes (2012)
Glazed doughnuts: 55 in eight minutes (2017)
Hard-boiled eggs: 141 in eight minutes (2013)
Jalapeño poppers: 118 in 10 minutes (2006)
Philly cheesesteaks: 23 six-inch sandwiches in 10 minutes (2013)
Pork ribs: 13.76 pounds of meat in 12 minutes (2013)
Poutine: 28 pounds in 10 minutes (2019)
Shrimp wontons: 390 in eight minutes (2012)
Twinkies: 121 in six minutes (2013)
According to one estimate, Chestnut’s 76 hot dogs and buns Sunday amounted to: 20,520 calories; 1,102 total grams of fat; 684 grams of protein; 1,900 milligrams of cholesterol; and 50,160 milligrams of sodium.
The Nathan’s contest requires that buns be consumed in equal proportion to the sausages, but they don’t have to be eaten together. As with many contestants, Chestnut ate the hot dogs separately and dunked his buns in cups of water to help make them easier to swallow. Vomiting – or “reversal of fortune,” as it’s sometimes called in the world of competitive eating – leads to an automatic disqualification.
That’s apparently not a concern for Chestnut, whose prodigious feats may incur nausea in some viewers but leave him feeling fulfilled.
“This is what I love. I love eating in front of people and they love pushing me,” Chestnut said before Sunday’s contest. “I’m just a guy that eats hot dogs and has fun. I’m just so happy to be doing this.”