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Patrick Bertoletti of Chicago wins his first men’s title at the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

By SUSAN HAIGH and CEDAR ATTANASIO – Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Patrick Bertoletti of Chicago gobbled down 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.

Bertoletti, 39, won a close 10-minute race that saw the leader change back and forth, defeating 13 competitors from around the world.

“I didn’t want to stop eating until the job was done,” he said.

Bertoletti beat his previous record of 55 hot dogs at the event, held every year on Independence Day at New York’s Coney Island, a beach resort with amusement parks and a carnival-like summer culture.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, the reigning men’s champion and winner of 16 of 17 previous competitions, did not compete this year because of a sponsorship dispute. Instead, he competed against four soldiers later in the day at a U.S. military base in El Paso, Texas, where he devoured 57 hot dogs in five minutes.

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Bertoletti said he had lost weight and trained with “zeal” for three months to prepare for Thursday’s event because he thought he had a good chance of winning.

“With Joey not here, I knew I had a chance,” he said. “I was able to unlock something that I don’t know where it came from. But I’m not complaining.”

Earlier Thursday, defending champion Miki Sudo of Florida won her tenth women’s title by eating 51 hot dogs in ten minutes, setting a new women’s world record.

“I’m just happy that it can be mine for another year,” said Sudo after winning the pink belt again.

The 38-year-old dental hygiene student won last year after choking down 39 1/2 hot dogs.

Sudo defeated 13 competitors, including 28-year-old rival Mayoi Ebihara of Japan, who finished second after consuming 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 since 2015 that the famous mustard-colored belt has gone to someone other than Chestnut.

Thousands of fans, some wearing foam hot dog hats, flock to the event each year, which takes place outside the original Nathan’s location in Coney Island. Rich Shea, CEO of event organizer Major League Eating, noted that people still came in droves even though Chestnut wasn’t there.

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

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

Last year, Indiana’s Chestnut won the title by eating 62 sausages and buns in 10 minutes. The record he set in 2021 is 76.

Chestnut was initially disinvited from the event because of a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods. The company specializes in plant-based meat substitutes and ran advertisements on ESPN throughout Thursday’s event.

Major League Eating has since said it has reversed the ban, but Chestnut decided to spend the holiday with the troops anyway. Chestnut said he would not return to the Coney Island contest without an apology.

The event in El Paso was held on a military base that is not easily accessible to the public, but a few hundred fans still showed up to support Chestnut. Some wore hot dog costumes and others wore a T-shirt that read “Let Joey eat.” Chestnut’s tally of 57 was better than that of the four Fort Bliss soldiers, who combined to eat 49 hot dogs.

Before the event, Chestnut expressed concern that he would not do well without the support of the large and loud crowd at Coney Island, but afterward he said he had reached a “record-breaking pace.”

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

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

Haigh reported from Norwich, Connecticut.

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