Spectators lined shoulder to shoulder in Coney Island on Tuesday, many sporting headgear that captured the essence of the day: Nathan’s foam hats or blue caps provided by an antacid company.
And then the rain hit.
Minutes before the men’s division of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest was to begin, heavy rain and lightning struck the area, sending fans scrambling for cover or higher ground. Some news reports suggested that the event had been cancelled; before 1:30 pm, security guards demolished the stage and ordered any remaining spectators to leave.
Event promoters, however, said no decision had been made to cancel the event, and after the rain subsided and some quick logistical changes were made, the competition resumed shortly after 2pm.
“We will never surrender,” the host and promoter of the event, George Shea, proclaimed to the fans who remained.
The men’s event started at 2:20 pm, and order was quickly restored, with the defending champion and overwhelming favorite, Joey Chestnut, easily defending his title by eating 62 sausages.
The women’s contest was expected to be a runaway victory for the defending champion, Miki Sudo. She won, eating 39.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes, just six more than her nearest competitor, Mayoi Ebihara, in a closer finish than expected.
Then the elements intervened, creating scenes of chaos as thousands of spectators fled for their safety. Some sought refuge at the nearby metro station; others simply went home.
About three blocks from the contest, emergency personnel responded to a report that at least one person had been electrocuted, according to the Fire Department. Two people were taken to Lutheran Medical Center; it was unclear if they had been struck by lightning, and their conditions were unknown.
The lightning caused city and police officials to order the evacuation of the competition area, according to Dawn Tolson, executive director of the city’s Office of Citywide Coordination and Management.
Legend has it that the Nathan’s contest has been held every year since 1916. Legend, however, does not match fact: In 2010, one of the contest’s original promoters, Mortimer Matz, admitted that in “Coney Island pitchman style,” they had invented the origin story.
The event actually began in the early 1970s, and its current incarnation is fueled by an overloaded dose of puns and patriotism from Mr. Shea, who oversees the event with his brother, Rich Shea.
Over the years, the Sheas have gently coerced mayors, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, to preside over weigh-in ceremonies that are rich with one-liners. (After delivering one such whine in 2012, Mr. Bloomberg famously noted out loud, “Who wrote this [expletive]?”)
They expanded the Coney Island event into a national show of competitive eating run by Major League Eating, a group that describes itself as “the governing body of all stomach sports.” The competition of the men was carried live on ESPN2; the women’s contest was shown live on the ESPN app, and on delay on ESPN2.
For most of America, the Fourth of July conjures up thoughts of fireworks, family and cookouts. But hours before any of those things begin in earnest, many Americans turn their attention to a quirky spectacle that has become another holiday tradition: Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
The July 4th event typically draws thousands of spectators who brave the heat and the effects of inexplicable zeal to watch an elite body of competitive eaters consume as many hot dogs as possible in 10 minutes.
The definition of humanly possible has one meaning for most of the meat-eating world; it has a completely different for most of the contestants. This is especially true for Mr. Chestnut and Ms. Sudo, who have returned to perhaps broaden the notion of what is humanly possible.
Mr. Chestnut holds the men’s world record of 76 hot dogs and buns eaten in 10 minutes in 2021, while Ms. Sudo holds the women’s world record of 48.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Both were overwhelming betting favorites to win.
Mr. Chestnut, who is also known as Jaws, won the men’s competition for the 15th time last year by eating 63 hot dogs. Mrs. South won for the eighth time by eating 40 hot dogs.
Each won $10,000 for capturing their divisions this year.
For those of you who may be curious, scientists (scientists!) have determined that the human body is capable of eating – at most – 83 hot dogs in 10 minutes, according to a study published in 2020 that was based on 39 years worth. of data from the competition.
According to that article, the most elite human competitive eaters in the world could go toe-to-toe with a grizzly bear in terms of the amount of food eaten per unit of time.
Bears can eat about eight dogs per minute, and Mr. Chestnut can eat about 7.5 hot dogs per minute. But the bears usually knock out in about six minutes, while Mr. Chestnut can scarf down scarves for a solid 10 minutes straight.
Chelsea Rose Marcius contributed reporting.