Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Goes On Without Its Star Eater

NEW YORK (AP) — The annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest will see a group of fanatic eaters in New York City gobble down as many sausages as possible on Thursday. But this year, the event’s biggest star will be eating his food 2,000 miles away.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who has won 16 of the previous 17 games, will not attend the game due to a sponsorship disputeInstead, he will battle soldiers at a U.S. military base in El Paso later in the day.

That means there’s a good chance the traditional Brooklyn event will find a new winner. On Independence Day, eaters from around the world compete to see how many hot dogs they can eat in 10 minutes.

Thousands of fans flock to the event each year, held outside the original Nathan’s location on Brooklyn’s Coney Island, a beach destination with amusement parks and a carnival-like summer culture. ESPN will broadcast the game live, beginning with the women’s division at 11 a.m. ET, while the men’s division gets underway at approximately 12:20 p.m.

Contestants come from more than a dozen states and five continents, with hopefuls from Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia and the Czech Republic vying for the coveted title and $10,000 prize money.

“There will be a new champion,” Australian James Webb, who holds the world record for eating 70 doughnuts in eight minutes, said Wednesday at a preview event in New York.

Last year Chestnutfrom Indiana, fought his way to the title by eating 62 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. The record, set in 2021, is 76.

ESPN announced ahead of the event that it would focus on two Americans with special camera footage: Geoffrey Esper, a high school teacher in Massachusetts, in the men’s division, and Miki Sudo, a dental hygiene student in Florida, in the women’s division.

Esper finished second last year with 49 dogs and buns, though her personal best is 51. Sudo won her ninth title in 2023 with 39 1/2, but her record is 48 1/2, the world record for women.

“I’m going to push myself,” Sudo said Wednesday. Her rival Mayoi Ebihara of Japan said through an interpreter that she would eat until she passed out, with the goal of eating 50 hot dogs.

Chestnut was initially not invited of the event due to a sponsorship agreement with Impossible Foods, a company specializing in plant-based meat substitutes.

Major League Eating, the organizer of the Nathan’s Famous contest, has since said it has lifted the ban, but Chestnut decided to spend the holidays with the troops anyway.

Chestnut said he would not return to the Coney Island game without an apology.

The event at Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, starting at 5 p.m. ET, will feature traditional sausages, with Chestnut attempting to eat four soldiers in five minutes.

Even though he won’t be eating its vegan products, Impossible Foods is promoting Chestnut’s YouTube livestream of the exhibit by flying planes carrying banners over Los Angeles and Miami. The company will also donate to an organization that supports military families based on the number of hot dogs eaten at the event, a spokesperson said.

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