Joey Chestnut wins Nathan’s hot dog eating contest

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It wasn’t exactly Willis Reed who hobbled onto the court before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals and inspired his New York Knicks to a championship win, but a hobbled Joey “Jaws” Chestnut overcame all odds Monday to clinch his 15th title Nathan’s famous July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Chestnut, who arrived at the annual event Monday on crutches with his lower leg in a cast, downed 63 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. That was 13 shy of the record of 76 he broke last year but more than enough for the 38-year-old to fend off his closest rival, Geoffrey Esper, who finished at 47½. Miki Sudo won her eighth women’s title earlier in the day.

“It hurts when I walk, but I can stand and I can eat and I will push myself to the limit,” Chestnut, who recently injured a tendon in his leg while running, told ESPN before the competition.

Chestnut opened up an 11-hot dog lead three minutes into Monday’s event, driving to his seventh straight title since being upset by Matt Stonie in 2015. He was unfazed by a person in a Darth Vader mask making his way to the front of the stage and unfurling a shield next to him in the middle of the competition. Chestnut introduced the intruder a short stranglehold before returning his attention to the hot dogs on the table in front of him.

As ESPN helpfully pointed out, Chestnut has now won one more mustard yellow championship belt (15) than Rafael Nadal has won French Open titles. Japan’s Takeru Kobayashi has won Nathan’s second most hot dog eating titles from 2001 to 2006 with six straight titles.

The Independence Day extravaganza, which began in 1916, returned to Nathan’s flagship location in Brooklyn’s Coney Island neighborhood for the first time since 2019. In 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the competition was held in a private venue and without spectators. Last year’s event was held at the home of the minor league, the Brooklyn Cyclones, with limited seating.

“We’re back! We’re back!” Major League Eating announcer George Shea called out before the contest began in front of a large crowd at the corner of Surf Avenue and Stillwell Avenue.

“It’s nice to be back here in front of this crowd,” Chestnut said after winning his 15th hot dog-eating title in the last 16 years. “New York is fantastic and there is no other place in the world like it.”

Sudo, who missed last year’s event because she was pregnant, won her eighth women’s title by eating 40 hot dogs and buns. Michelle Lesco, who won the 2021 title, finished second. Sudo holds the women’s record with 48½ hot dogs she devoured in 2020 as she won her seventh consecutive title.

“I knew I was excited to come back, but the feeling you get when you’re actually here is like nothing else,” Sudo said on ESPN.

Sudo, 36, met her husband, fellow eater Nick Wehry, at the 2018 Hot Dog Eating Contest. Wehry held the couple’s son Max, who turns one on Friday, while Sudo reclaimed her title on Monday. Wehry later competed in the men’s division.