With Plexiglass and Piles of Hot Dogs, a Fourth of July Tradition Lives On

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With Independence Day celebrations canceled across the nation, one distinctly American custom continued on Saturday regardless of the pandemic: the annual pilgrimage of aggressive eaters to Coney Island for the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. But with cheering crowds turned away to advertise social distancing, contestants as a substitute chowed down amid a refrain of gulping and chewing from their rivals.

Held with out fail each Fourth of July since 1942, the occasion ordinarily attracts 1000’s to the unique Nathan’s location in Brooklyn. Spectators sweat beneath foam sizzling canine hats, cheering as they watch a panel of rivals dunk the sausages into water — to melt the buns — all within the title of America.

“The Nathan’s Famous contest is synonymous with July Fourth, America and the celebration of freedom,” stated the occasion’s host, George Shea, who is thought for his extravagantly patriotic commentary. He launched the winner of the 2019 males’s competitors as “the very vessel of our freedom” and “the champion of the Fourth of July.”

But there was no crowd this yr to cheer raucously, and the aggressive eaters, who normally hover over their piles of sizzling canines shoulder to shoulder, had been spaced other than each other. The contest was restricted to 5 girls and 6 males to permit for ample social distancing. One lady was unable to attend due to restrictions on travel to New York from Arizona, the place coronavirus circumstances are surging.

Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., who received his 13th title on Saturday after consuming a report 75 sizzling canines in 10 minutes, stated in an interview on Friday that it could be difficult to not be surrounded by the deafening cheers from the gang this yr — and for the primary time to have the ability to hear his rivals whereas they chow down.

“They’re going to be burping and groaning, and I’m just going to have to focus on my hot dogs,” Mr. Chestnut stated.

For Mr. Chestnut, 36, the affirmation that the competition would nonetheless go on “made it a lot easier to practice.” Eating 40 or 50 sizzling canines at a time with out the understanding that the competitors would occur this yr was a bit “depressing,” he stated.

The reigning girls’s champion, Miki Sudo of Torrington, Conn., defended her title this yr, profitable for the seventh time by scarfing down a report 48 and a half sizzling canines.

“This is a competition unlike anything that we’ve had before,” she stated. This yr’s precautions embrace plexiglass and at the very least six toes of distance between eaters, in addition to testing and temperature checks for rivals.

The location of this yr’s sizzling canine slog, which has been held each summer time since 1916 besides 1941, when it was canceled as a protest to the conflict in Europe, was not disclosed publicly forward of the occasion to discourage loyal followers from flocking to it.

“Thank you so much for supporting us from your living rooms,” Ms. Sudo stated after profitable the competitors.

Ms. Sudo stated she was ecstatic when she discovered the competitors would nonetheless occur this yr, and had three observe occasions together with her boyfriend, Nick Wehry, who additionally competed on Saturday.

She cooked up “10 minutes’ worth of hot dogs” — about 40 wieners — for every coaching session.

Though he’s unable to “give sweaty hugs to people afterward” this yr, Mr. Chestnut stated he was inspired that individuals might nonetheless watch at home.

He described the everyday crowd as stuffed with “real New Yorkers” who don’t depart city for the Fourth — devoted followers who, up till this yr, sizzled beneath the solar to witness the feast.

“I know they’re going to be watching, and even though they’re not in person, I’m happy I’m still part of their Fourth of July,” Mr. Chestnut stated.

John Taggart contributed reporting.