Before the barbecues and the fireworks, Americans tuned in to ESPN for one of the best sporting events of the year.
No, we're not talking baseball or tennis or racing. We're talking about the 98th annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest, held at the hot dog king's flagship Coney Island restaurant.
Each year, the competition sees about 40,000 attendees who crowd the streets of Brooklyn and millions more at home who watch on television or online to see men and women eat insane amounts of hot dogs.
But, of course, these contestants are professionals -- athletes, even.
Don't agree? Before the competition started, ESPN produced an interesting segment on just what goes into these extreme eating events, stating that professional eaters like Chestnut train their masseter muscle (the main muscle involved in chewing) by chewing five or six sticks of gum at a time, resulting in a bite measured at about 280 pounds of force -- the same as a German shepherd's. These pros also train their stomachs to increase intake by about 400 percent to make room for the dozens of hot dogs they'll consume. Ever wonder why these extreme eaters tend to be thin? Fat takes up room in the body, giving the stomach less space to expand, so these men and women purposely manage food intake in their normal lives.
As the competition begins, each of the dozen or so competitors starts out strong, but even the top two contenders, Matt "Megatoad" Stonie and Tim "Eater X" Janus, quickly lose ground to Chestnut, the 29-year-old who won the hearts of New York City and the world six times prior to this day. As the ten-minute clock counts down, Chestnut builds a respectable lead, then crushes his competition outright, eating 69 hot dogs to set a world record and claim a seventh mustard belt.
In the women's competition, Sonja "The Black Widow" Thomas won her third straight title by eating 36 3/4 dogs.
Closer to home, Deerfield Beach's Liam Burt won the fifth-annual CocoWalk hot dog eating competition, held yesterday in Coconut Grove. Burt beat four other competitive eaters, wresting the title from reigning champion Juan Angel by consuming 11 hot dogs in ten minutes. Burt, who felt "full but good" after the competition, said that eating the 11 hot dogs proved tougher than he anticipated. Here's the last minute of the competition (Burt is in the red cap):
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