At Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest, 15 Women Challenge the Gluttony Ceiling

July 5th, 2016 by Staff

The contestants rolled up their sleeves and took to their plates of hot dogs on the stage, lining up their cups of water in a strategic array, as thousands of perspired onlookers watched with anticipation.

As the countdown ended, the reigning champion burst into action, hot dogs disappearing faster than the eye wanted to see, with only a pause given for a wipe of the mouth, or an occasional flip of her blond hair from her face.

“This is back and forth, neck and neck, dog for dog,” said George Shea, the longtime M.C. of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, gesturing to the two leading eaters. “Both with ponytails, I love it.”

For decades, men have flocked to Coney Island on the Fourth of July to test their stomachs and their will against the likes of Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut, and scarf down the most Nathan’s Famous hot dogs in 10 minutes.

The competition on Monday was no different. But before Mr. Chestnut took the first of his many winning bites, before the green confetti fell and the cameras surrounded him and his competitors, a group of less celebrated women tried the same feat.

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The reigning champion, Miki Sudo of Las Vegas, bounced up and down at center stage next to the three-time women’s champion, Sonya Thomas, known as the Black Widow. Ms. Thomas did less bouncing; she favored the time-honored technique of dunking her hot dog buns in cups of water before stuffing them into her mouth with her fist.

The crowd and ceremonial glitter were milder than they would be an hour later for the men’s competition, and the numbers didn’t mount as high as Mr. Chestnut’s total of 70 hot dogs, but the chewing was equally engrossing. Ms. Sudo ultimately devoured 38.5 hot dogs in 10 minutes, beating Ms. Thomas’s 35.

Before 2011, women competed alongside the men in the same hot dog eating contest. The new separate contest provides for a fairer competition, female competitors said, but often seems overshadowed by the media’s focus on the men’s division.

“To be dismissed as an opening act,” Ms. Sudo said before the contest began, “is disappointing.”

Ms. Sudo’s hot dog tally beat the fourth-place total in the men’s division, 38 hot dogs, and last year, her result would have placed her third over all, she said. Yet far more reporters and fans directed their attention toward the men’s competition than the women’s.

“It would be nice to be given equal coverage,” she said. “There are competitors that are just as dominant as the men.”

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