Temperatures were heading toward 90 degrees, but for Joey Chestnut, the heat likely felt even higher as a packed crowd gathered at Coney Island to see if he could get his seventh straight Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
"I'll do anything I can to win it,” Chestnut said before the contest. "I'll give blood if I have to."
Through the years Chestnut has ranged between 56 and 68 hot dogs per win, and this time there would be no holding back. Among the competitors was Matt Stonie, a 22-year-old upstart, who has beaten Chestnut in asparagus eating competitions. Other competitors included Ronnie Hartman, a soldier who recently returned from Afghanistan and chose to spend his Fourth chomping down hot dogs, Pete "Pretty Boy" Davekos whose accolades include eating 31 soft tacos in 10 minutes, Eric "Badlands” Booker who has scarfed down 21 matzo balls in five minutes and Marcos Owens who has eaten 144 Hooters chicken wings in 10 minutes.
"There's not a greater assortment of characters than right here today,” said Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz before the contest.
Stonie came out quickly, popping out ahead of Chestnut in the early seconds of the competition but the champion wasn't going down quickly. With a minute down, Chestnut was a hot dog and a half ahead of Stonie, who arguably looked to be in considerably less pain while chomping down hot dogs to keep pace. At 8 minutes, the two briefly tied, with Tim "Eater X” Janus, struggling to stay in third. (The ever-helpful announcers noted that Janus has had a tough year after breaking up with his girlfriend.)
But by six minutes left, it was all over. Chestnut jumped out to a six hot-dog lead and never looked back. He broke his previous record, eating 69 hot dogs for a new world record. It was his seventh straight win, which topped the mark of six he had been sharing with his rival Takeru Kobayashi.
"69 is a magic number," he said, as the crowd chanted his name. "I came out here the crowd pushed me and they wouldn’t let me slow down and it’s awesome."
Stonie finished second with 51.
Chestnut gave credit to his girlfriend, Neslie Ricasa, who took over coaching for him recently.
"Without her I would have been lazy and she saved me on that one," he said.
This year, for many local residents, the hot dog contest took on a bit of a bigger meaning: Nathan's Famous and the amusement district of Coney Island are still rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and the competition was just another sign of the area returning to normalcy.
"The speed with which the rebuilding took place was remarkable," noted George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating in ESPN's pre-show video. "You have to understand. October 29, the water came in and knocked everyone back on their heels."
Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, won the women’s competition, winning by ¾ of a hot dog with 36 and ¾ consumed. Juliet Lee, the second-place finisher, ate 36.
The contest was also the last time New York Mayor Bloomberg recited a record amount of puns for the weigh-in. Here’s the always dry-humored billionaire, in his final year doing it.