Steve Eighinger

Hot dog! July 4 tradition lives on

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 23, 2020 12:01 am

Be still my beating heart.

And churning stomach.

The annual Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest will go on as scheduled -- with some modifications, of course -- on its traditional July 4 date, and again be televised by ESPN.

"The pandemic is just turning the stomach-expanding sport into a more intimate affair," writes Hannah Frishberg of the New York Post.

The event is normally held outside Nathan's original location on Coney Island, but this year take place at an undisclosed private site in the same neighborhood. There will be no live audience and COVID-19 safety protocols will be in place.

"Coronavirus has postponed concerts, canceled sporting events and basically upended life as we know it," wrote Leah Asmelash of CNN. "But there's one thing the virus can't stop: Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest."

The contest, like always, will be a 10-minute sprint where competitors will eat as many hot dogs and buns as humanly possible. ESPN will begin its broadcast at 11 a.m. Quincy time. The contest, which normally has a live crowd of around 50,000, has been nationally televised since 2004 and dates to 1916.

"The pandemic has also made the competition more cutthroat, with fewer competitors allowed so as to ensure social distancing," according to Frishberg.

Recent years have featured 15 contenders each in the male and female divisions, but this year just five men and five women will be allowed to fight for the title.

Two of the competitors will be 12-time men's champion Joey Chestnut and six-time women's winner Miki Sudo. Chestnut's record is 74 dogs, Sudo's 41. (For those mathematically challenged, Chestnut's 74 hot dogs consumed means he averaged 7.4 dogs -- and buns -- each minute.)

"You can't cancel Thanksgiving, you can't cancel Christmas and you can't cancel the Fourth of July," said George Shea, chairman of the Major League Eating (MLE) governing body, in published reports. "And canceling the hot-dog contest would be like canceling the Fourth of July. That is why we had to make it work one way or another." reports that contestants will be seated at a 30-foot-long table and separated by six feet, with the emcee standing six feet back. Staff at the event will all wear masks and gloves and the eaters will have several large plates of hot dogs in front of them to reduce interaction.

According to the Wall Street Journal, event organizers donate 100,000 of the Nathan's Famous hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City. This year's event will also help raise money and awareness for food banks, in addition to honoring essential workers in New York City.

Chestnut said in a 2019 interview that the July 4 hot dog eating contest has become a part of American pop culture.

"It's my Super Bowl," he added.

And the 36-year-old Chestnut doesn't limit himself to hot dogs when it comes to competitive eating. He has established no fewer than 48 world records while downing everything from deep-fried asparagus to boysenberry pie.

The secret to his success?

"I love to eat," he said.