The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Joey Chestnut, on one good leg, wins July 4 hot dog eating contest

Joey Chestnut won the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest again. (Julia Nikhinson/AP)
3 min

It wasn’t exactly Willis Reed limping onto the court before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals and inspiring his New York Knicks to a championship-clinching win, but a hobbled Joey “Jaws” Chestnut overcame adversity Monday to claim his record 15th title in the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest.

Chestnut, who arrived at Monday’s annual event on crutches and with his lower right leg in a cast, downed 63 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. That was 13 fewer than the record 76 he crushed last year but more than enough for the 38-year-old to hold off his closest competition, Geoffrey Esper, who finished with 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’m going to push it to the limit,” Chestnut, who recently injured a tendon in his leg while running, told ESPN before the contest.

Chestnut opened an 11-hot dog lead three minutes into Monday’s event and cruised to his seventh straight title since he was upset by Matt Stonie in 2015. He was unfazed by a person in a Darth Vader mask who pushed his way to the front of the stage and unfurled a sign next to him mid-contest. Chestnut put the interloper in a brief chokehold before returning his attention to the hot dogs on the table in front of him.

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

The Independence Day spectacle, which was first officially held in 1972, 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 contest was staged at a private location and without spectators. Last year’s event was held at the home ballpark of the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones with limited attendance.

“We are back! We are back!” Major League Eating announcer George Shea shouted before the contest began in front of a large crowd at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues.

“It’s beautiful to be back here in front of this audience,” Chestnut said after winning his 15th hot dog eating title in the past 16 years. “New York is amazing, and there’s no place like it in the world.”

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 devoured in 2020, when she captured her seventh consecutive title.

“I knew I was excited to come back, but the feeling that you get once you’re actually here is not like anything else,” Sudo said on ESPN.

Sudo, 36, met her husband, fellow competitive eater Nick Wehry, at the 2018 hot dog eating contest. Wehry held the couple’s son, Max, who will turn 1 on Friday, as Sudo reclaimed her title Monday. Wehry later competed in the men’s division.