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The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is an annual American competitive eating competition, which is run as a publicity gathering event by Shea Communications. It is held each year on July 4 at Nathan's Famous Corporation's original, and best-known restaurant at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
The contest has gained public attention in recent years due to the sudden stardom of Takeru Kobayashi, and later his rival American Joey Chestnut. In the 2013 contest, Chestnut won his seventh consecutive title by consuming a record-setting 69 hot dogs and buns (HDBs) in ten minutes.
The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held at the original location on Coney Island every year since about 1972 in conjunction with Independence Day. According to legend, on July 4, 1916, four immigrants held a hot dog eating contest at Nathan's Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. A man by the name of Jim Mullen is said to have won, although accounts vary. In 2010, however, promoter Mortimer Matz, admitted to having fabricated this legend with a man named Max Rosey in the early 1970s as part of a publicity stunt. The legend grew over the years, to the point where The New York Times and other publications were known to have repeatedly listed 1916 as the inaugural year, although no evidence of the contest exists prior to 1972. The 1978 annual contest was held on Memorial Day rather than July 4. In 1993, a one-time, one-on-one contest under the Brooklyn Bridge was held between Michael DeVito and Orio Ito.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the competition was dominated by Japanese contestants, particularly Takeru Kobayashi, who won six consecutive from 2001-2006. The Japanese competitors introduced advanced eating and training techniques that shattered previous competitive eating world records. The rise in popularity of the event coincided with the surge in popularity of the worldwide competitive eating circuit.
On July 4th, 2011, Sonya Thomas became the champion of the first Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest for Women (previously women had competed against the men). Eating 40 hot dogs in 10 minutes, Thomas earned the inaugural pink belt and won $10,000.
In recent years, a considerable amount of pomp and circumstance have surrounded the days leading up to the event, which has become an annual spectacle of competitive entertainment. The event is presented on an extravagant stage complete with colorful live announcers and an overall party atmosphere. The day before the contest is a public weigh-in with the mayor of New York City. Some competitors don flamboyant costumes and/or makeup, while others may promote themselves with eating-related nicknames. On the morning of the event, they have a heralded arrival to Coney Island on the "bus of champions" and are called to the stage individually during introductions. In 2013, six-time defending champion Joey Chestnut was escorted to the stage in a sedan chair.
The competition draws many spectators and worldwide press coverage. In 2007, an estimated 50,000 came out to witness the event. In 2004 a three-story-high "Hot Dog Eating Wall of Fame" was erected at the site of the annual contest. The wall lists past winners, and has a digital clock which counts down the minutes until the next contest. Despite substantial damage suffered at Nathan's due to Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the location was repaired, reopened, and the 2013 event was held as scheduled.
The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) has sanctioned the event since 1997. Today, only entrants currently under contract by the IFOCE can compete in the contest.
The field of about 20 contestants typically includes the following:
The competitors stand on a raised platform behind a long table with drinks and Nathan's Famous hot dogs in buns. Most contestants have water on hand, but other kinds of drinks can and have been used. Condiments are allowed, but are usually not used. The hot dogs are allowed to cool slightly after grilling to prevent possible mouth burns. The contestant that consumes (and keeps down) the most hot dogs and buns (HDB) in ten minutes is declared the winner. The length of the contest has changed over the years, previously 12 minutes, and in some years, only three and a half minutes.
Spectators watch and cheer the eaters on from close proximity. A designated scorekeeper is paired with each contestant, flipping a number board counting each hot dog consumed. Partially eaten hot dogs count and the granularity of measurement is eighths of a length. Hot dogs still in the mouth at the end of regulation count if they are subsequently swallowed. Yellow penalty cards can be issued for "messy eating," and disqualification can occur for "reversal of fortune."
After the winner is declared, a plate showing the number of hot dogs eaten by the winner is brought out for photo opportunities.
The winner of the men's competition is given possession of the coveted international "bejeweled" mustard-yellow belt. The belt is of "unknown age and value" according to IFOCE co-founder George Shea and rests in the country of its owner. In 2011, Sonya Thomas won the inaugural women's competition and its "bejeweled" pink belt.
Controversies usually revolve around supposed breaches of rules that are missed by the judges. For example, NY1 television news reporter Quinn O'Malley reviewed taped footage of the 1999 contest and noticed that Steve Keiner ate half of a hot dog before the contest had officially begun. The judge missed it – otherwise Keiner would have been disqualified.
Another controversy occurred in 2003 when former NFL Player William "The Refrigerator" Perry competed as a celebrity contestant. Though he had won a qualifier by eating twelve hot dogs, he ate only four at the contest, stopping after just five minutes. George Shea stated that the celebrity contestant experiment will likely not be repeated.
At the 2007 contest, the results were delayed to review whether defending champion Takeru Kobayashi had vomited (also known as a "Roman method incident" or "reversal of fortune") in the final seconds of regulation. Such an incident results in the disqualification of the competitor under the rules of the IFOCE. The judges ruled in Kobayashi's favor. A similar incident occurred involving Kobayashi in 2002. in a victory over Eric "Badlands" Booker.
Takeru Kobayashi has not competed in the contest since 2009 due to his refusal to sign an exclusive contract with the event's organizers. In 2010, he was arrested by police after attempting to jump on the stage after the contest was over and disrupt the proceedings. On August 5, 2010 all charges against Kobayashi were dismissed by a judge in Brooklyn. Despite his record six consecutive victories in their annual event, Nathan's removed Kobayashi's image from their "Wall of Fame" in 2011. Kobayashi again refused to compete In 2011, but instead conducted his own hot dog eating exhibition, claiming to have consumed 69 HDB, seven more than Joey Chestnut accomplished in the Nathan's contest. The claim to the record was not recognized by Major League Eating.
After Kobayashi left Nathan's, the hot dog contest lost sponsorship from Old Navy, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Pepto-Bismol, and was down year-to-year. With an average 0.7 HH U.S. rating, it was off just a tenth of a point from 2012, when it aired on ESPN. ESPN averaged 1.949 million viewers for 2011's Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, but went down 41% to 1.15 million viewers in 2013.
|Year||Winner||Hot dogs incl. buns|
|2013||Joey Chestnut (Men's)||69||Chestnut beat his own world record by one dog. He became the first contestant to win 7 titles overall and 7 consecutive titles.|
|Sonya Thomas (Women's)||36¾|
|2012||Joey Chestnut (Men's)||68||Chestnut tied his previous record, previously set in 2009. He also became the second person to win six consecutive titles. Thomas set a new women's record. Tim “Eater X” Janus (52.25) and Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti (51) finish second and third once again, this time with Janus edging out for second place. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|Sonya Thomas (Women's)||45|
|2011||Joey Chestnut (Men's)||62||Separate competitions are held for women and men for the first time. Chestnut dominates on his way to his fifth straight title. Sonya Thomas (40 HDB) won the inaugural women's event. Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti (53) and Tim “Eater X” Janus (45) finish 2nd and 3rd for the second year in a row. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|Sonya Thomas (Women's)||40|
|2010||Joey Chestnut||54||Chestnut (54), Tim “Eater X” Janus (45), and Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti (37) round out the top three. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|2009||Joey Chestnut||68||Chestnut (68 HDB) beat his previous record in ten minutes, setting new event, U.S., and world records. Kobayashi (64½ HDB) set a Japanese record. Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti finshed third with an impressive 55 HDB. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas (41) broke the female record.|
|2008||Joey Chestnut||59||Event, Japanese, U.S., and world records set (59 HDB). First event using new ten-minute time limit and first tie and eat-off since 1980. Chestnut & Kobayashi tied for first with 59 in regulation. In overtime Chestnut is the first to finish a plate of five. Kobayashi, losing by a bite, finishes second. Tim “Eater X” Janus finished third with 42.|
|2007||Joey Chestnut||66||Having broken the world and U.S. records with 59½ HDB at a qualifier contest on June 2, 2007, Chestnut (66 HDB) finishes first, setting new event, U.S. and world records. Defeating Kobayashi for the first time. Fifth place Sonya Thomas (39 HDB) sets female record. (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|2006||Takeru Kobayashi||53¾||Winner Kobayashi sets event, Japanese and world records. Second place Joey Chestnut (52 HDB), sets U.S. record. Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas (37) finishes third. (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|2005||Takeru Kobayashi||49||2nd: Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas (37) sets U.S. record, Women's record. Future winner Joey "Jaws" Chestnut finishes third with 32. (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|2004||Takeru Kobayashi||53½||Event, Japanese and world records set. 2nd: Nobuyuki Shirota (38), Sonya Thomas (32 HDB) sets the female and U.S. records. (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|2003||Takeru Kobayashi||44½||Sonya Thomas (25 HDB) sets the female record. 2nd: Ed "Cookie" Jarvis (30½, American record), 3rd: Eric "Badlands" Booker (29). Twenty competitors and 3,000 spectators in attendance. William "The Refrigerator" Perry competes, but eats only four HDB and drops out after five minutes.(Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|2002||Takeru Kobayashi||50½||Event, Japanese and world records set. (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|2001||Takeru Kobayashi||50||20 competitors total. All-time world records set. 2nd: Eric "Badlands" Booker (26), 3rd: Oleg Zhornitskiy (25). (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|2000||Kazutoyo Arai||25⅛||Event, Japanese and world records set. Second place: Misao "Beast" Fujita (24). Third place Takako Akasaka (22¼ HDB) set the women's record|
|1999||Steve Keiner||20¼||Before the contest Keiner is alleged to have eaten half of a hot dog, but judges missed it. He would have been disqualified had the judges seen it.|
|1997||Hirofumi Nakajima||24½||Event, Japanese and world records set; First time that intergovernmental qualifiers were used|
|1996||Ed Krachie||22¼||Event, U.S. and world records set. World record was later broken December 4, 1996, by Hirofumi Nakajima (23¼) in a hot dog eating contest in Central Park, also setting the Japanese record.|
|1993||Mike Devito||17||First time that qualifying events were used to choose contestants|
|1991||Frank Dellarosa||21½||1991 event was the reported as 75th annual contest. (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|1989||Jay Green||15½||Event advertised as the 73rd annual contest. Green beat 23 other contestants.|
|1988||Jay Green||10||Green, who finished second the previous year, defeated 12 other contestants.|
|1987||Don Wolfman||13½||Events reported to be the 71st annual contest. Jay Green (13 HDB) finished second. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|1986||Mark Heller||15½||245-pount Mark Heller won the contest of 24 men. Second place Robert Gerber ate 13 hot dogs. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|1985||Oscar Rodriguez||11¾||Rodriguez later lost a one-on-one challenge by Japanese student Hiroaki Tominaga.|
|1984||Birgit Felden||9½||Female champion from Cologne, West Germany. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|1983||Emil Gomez||10½||The winner was a 25-year-old, 210-pound accountant from the Bronx. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|1982||Steven Abrams||11+||Independence Day was on a Sunday, and therefore held July 5; Winner ate one bite of a twelfth hot dog.|
|1981||Thomas DeBerry||11||Winner stopped eating after five minutes to attend a family barbecue.|
|1980|| Paul Siederman|
|9+||Siederman and Baldini both ate nine hot dogs plus part of a tenth in ten minutes. Both ate 3½ hot dogs in an eat-off, and were declared co-winners. An article on p. 5A of the July 5, 1980 Miami News lists this as the 64th annual contest. (Contest duration: 10 minutes)|
|1979||Thomas Stash||19||Stash won by downing 19 wieners in a matter of 12 minutes. Impressive by the standards of the day. (Contest duration: 12 minutes)|
|1978|| Manel Hollenback|
|10||The contest was held on Memorial Day. A field of 28 contestants saw 18-year old Hollenback and 10 year old Sinclair tied for first after devouring 10 hot dogs and buns in 6½ minutes. Walter White came in 23rd with 4 hot dogs eaten.|
|1974||Roberto Muriel||10||The 3 ½ minute contest was won by a twenty-two-year-old Brooklyn resident  (Contest duration: 3½ minutes)|
|1972||Jason Schechter||14||The contest lasted for 3½ minutes and was won by a Brooklyn collegiate student. The prize was a certificate for forty more hot dogs. (Contest duration: 3½ minutes)|
In 2003, ESPN aired the contest for the first time on a tape-delayed basis. Starting in 2004, ESPN began airing the contest live. Since 2005, Paul Page has been ESPN's play-by-play announcer for the event, accompanied by color commentator Richard Shea. In 2011, the women's competition was carried live on ESPN3, followed by the men's competition on ESPN. In 2012, ESPN signed an extension to carry the event through 2017.
|2004||ESPN||Gary Miller, Richard Shea||926,000 viewers|
|2005||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea||860,000 viewers|
|2006||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea||1.46 million viewers|
|2007||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea||1.632 million viewers|
|2008||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea|
|2009||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea||1.340 million viewers|
|2010||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea, Todd Harris||1.677 million viewers|
|2011||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea, Rene Herlocker||1.949 million viewers|
|2012||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea, Rene Herlocker|
|2013||ESPN||Paul Page, Richard Shea, Rene Herlocker||1.15 million viewers|
The Nathan's contest has been featured in these documentaries and televisual programs:
News sources typically use puns in head-lines and copy referring to the contest, such as "'Tsunami' is eating contest's top dog again," "couldn't cut the mustard" (A.P.), "Nathan's King ready, with relish" (Daily News) and "To be frank, Fridge faces a real hot-dog consumer" (ESPN).
Reporter Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Post has been covering the event since the early 1990s and has been a judge at the competition since 2000. Darren Rovell, formerly of ESPN, has competed in a qualifier.
Each contestant has his or her own eating method. Takeru Kobayashi pioneered the "Solomon Method" at his first competition in 2001. The method is to break each hot dog in half, eat the two halves at once, then eat the bun.
"Dunking" is the most prominent method used today. Because buns absorb water, many contestants dunk the buns in water and squeeze them to make them easier to swallow, and slide down the throat more efficiently.
Other methods used include the "Carlene Pop," where the competitor jumps up and down while eating, to force the food down to the stomach. "Buns & Roses" is a similar trick, but the eater sways from side to side instead. "Juliet-ing" is a cheating method in which players simply throw the Hot Dog Buns over their shoulders.
Contestants train and prepare for the event in different ways. Some fast, others prefer liquid-only diets before the event. Takeru Kobayashi meditates, drinks water and eats cabbage, then fasts before the event. Several contestants, such as Ed "Cookie" Jarvis, aim to be "hungry, but not too hungry" and have a light breakfast the morning of the event.
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