Four Time Nathan's Champion to Defend Title

New York Daily News: In this corner, competitive-eating champ Joey Chestnut. And in the other corner . . . well, a lot of hot dogs.

The challengers at Nathan's Fourth of July hot-dog eating contest weighed in yesterday in a silly spectacle full of pomp, circumstance and a whole lot of bad hot-dog-related buns, er, puns.

This much is clear: When the world turns its eyes to Coney Island on Monday, there will be a "dogged pursuit" of the title, and the challengers will "relish the chance" to emerge as "top dog."

Even Mayor Bloomberg got into the act. "Now, they say every dog has his day, and here in New York, the dog days of summer kick off with the hot-dog eating contest," Hizzoner said.

For the first time, there will be a separate women's competition at the annual event, and contestants from both genders weighed in at a City Hall ceremony.

Chestnut - at 218 pounds, down 2 pounds from last year - is the four-time defending champion. He says he'll consume about 20,000 calories at the competition - and that his doctor is okay with it. "I run, I really try to stay healthy, and I count my calories rigorously when I'm not doing the contests," said Chestnut, 27, who added that his doctor regularly checks his blood work and has declared him in good health.

Chestnut ate 54 hot dogs last year, down from his record of 68 the year before. His most serious challenger could have been former champion Takeru Kobayashi, who jumped on the stage during last year's competition - and was arrested. He's since been banned from the contest.

The winner of each gender competition will be awarded $20,000.

Sonya (The Black Widow) Thomas has been installed as the favorite on the women's side, organizers said. "There is no added pressure - but I plan to do the best," said Thomas, 42, adding she would only eat salads in the next two days to prepare. "I am very ready."

Thomas will square off against eight other women, some seasoned veterans, others amateurs eating in their first competition.

Laura Leu, a 33-year-old from Brooklyn, twice served as a Bunnette - a hot-dog cheerleader - in previous Coney Island competitions and was inspired to partake herself this time. "I didn't have a lot of talents growing up, but I could always eat, and my parents always said I had a big mouth," Leu said.

However, Leu - whose goal is to eat eight hot dogs, 33 fewer that Thomas' best - said her first hot-dog competition would also be her last. "I've been practicing," said Leu, a freelance writer, "and honestly, I don't like how I feel afterward."


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