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Bertoletti, Sudo win top dog honors at Nathan’s Famous power-eating contest, absent longtime champ

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NEW YORK (AP) — Patrick Bertoletti gobbled up 58 hot dogs to win his first men’s title Thursday at the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, taking advantage of the absence of the event’s biggest star. In the women’s competition, defending champion Miki Sudo won her 10th title and set a new world record by downing 51 links.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, the reigning men’s champion and winner of 16 out of 17 previous competitions, didn’t attend this year over a sponsorship tiff. Instead he competed later in the day against four soldiers at a U.S. Army base in El Paso, Texas, where he wolfed down 57 hot dogs in five minutes.

Bertoletti, 39, of Chicago, won in a tight, 10-minute race where the leader bounced back and forth, defeating 13 competitors from around the world. He said he lost weight and practiced for three months with “an urgency” to prepare for the event, thinking he had a good chance of winning.

“With Joey not here, I knew I had a shot,” Bertoletti said. “I was able to unlock something that I don’t know where it came from.”

Bertoletti bested his prior record of 55 hot dogs at the event, which is held every Independence Day on New York’s Coney Island, a beachfront destination with amusement parks and a carnivalesque summer culture.

Earlier, in the women’s competition, Sudo, a 38-year-old dental hygiene student from Florida, once again carried the day and set the new record a year after forcing down 39 1/2 hot dogs in 2023.

“I’m just happy to call this mine for another year,” Sudo said after winning the pink belt.

Sudo defeated 13 competitors, including 28-year-old rival Mayoi Ebihara of Japan, who came in second after eating 37 hot dogs. She was also the runner-up in 2023.

Sudo also outdid her partner, former Florida bodybuilder Nicholas Wehry, who ate 46 hot dogs in the men’s competition.

Bertoletti’s victory marks the first time the famed mustard belt has gone to someone besides Chestnut since 2015.

Thousands of fans, some wearing foam hot dog hats, flock each year to the event held outside the original Nathan’s location in Coney Island. Rich Shea, CEO of event organizer Major League Eating, noted how people still came out in droves even though Chestnut was not there.

“Just a great competitor, a great guy, a grown man, and a man who’s made a choice not to be here today,” he said of the popular eating champ on ESPN. “But fortunately for us, tens of thousands of people are crowding around Nathan’s Famous. It’s a pilgrimage every year. This is not a paid Hollywood crowd.”

Competitors came from over a dozen states and five continents, with prospects from Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia and the Czech Republic vying for the coveted title and $10,000 prize money.

Last year Chestnut, of Indiana, chewed his way to the title by downing 62 dogs and buns in 10 minutes. The record, which he set in 2021, is 76.

Chestnut was initially disinvited from the event over a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods, which specializes in plant-based meat substitutes and which advertised on ESPN throughout the event Thursday.

Major League Eating has since said it walked back the ban, but Chestnut decided to spend the holiday with the troops anyway. Chestnut said he wouldn’t return to the Coney Island contest without an apology.

The event in El Paso was held on an Army base that’s not easily accessed by the public. Still, a few hundred fans showed up to support Chestnut, some wearing hot dog costumes and another wearing a T-shirt that read, “Let Joey eat.” Chestnut’s tally of 57 bested the four Fort Bliss soldiers, who ate a combined 49.

Ahead of the event, Chestnut expressed fear that he might not perform well without the support of the large and raucous Coney Island crowd. But afterward he said he had hit a “record-setting pace.”

“I love you guys,” Chestnut told the fans at Fort Bliss after acknowledging the military service of his father, grandfather, and brother. “You guys pushed me so hard, thank you so much.”

The event was sponsored by Impossible Foods, though its vegan products were not used in the competition. Company CEO Peter McGuinness appeared on stage with Chestnut and representatives of Operation Homefront, a charity that supports military families. He presented the organization with a $106,000 donation check; $1,000 for each hot dog eaten.

Chestnut will next compete with pro rival Takeru Kobayashi on Sept. 2 in a head-to-head Netflix special.

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Haigh reported from Norwich, Connecticut.

By SUSAN HAIGH and CEDAR ATTANASIO
Associated Press

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