We have a wiener! Joey Chestnut eats 71 hot dogs for title

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Joey Chestnut, Miki Sudo

Eleven-time and defending men’s champion Joey Chestnut, left, and defending women’s champion Miki Sudo pose together during Nathan’s Famous international Fourth of July hot dog eating contest weigh-in at the Empire State Building on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 71 wieners and buns to secure his 12th title at Nathan’s Famous annual July Fourth hot dog eating contest on Thursday, just a few hot dogs shy of breaking the record he set last year.

In front of a crowd of fans and facing 17 opponents, the California native far exceeded his nearest competitors, but didn’t quite make or pass the 74-dog mark he reached in 2018.

When asked how he felt after the contest, Chestnut, 35, said, “I feel like I should eat a couple more.

“I knew it was going to be close. I was trying hard and I was overstuffing my mouth and it wasn’t going down,” he said. “I just needed to find a way to move a little bit faster. I think it’s getting harder the older I get.”

Miki Sudo won the women’s competition by chomping down 31 hot dogs.

The 33-year-old fell short of her total last year of 37 frankfurters but earned her sixth consecutive title by easily beating runner-up Michelle Lesco, who wolfed down 26 hot dogs.

Like Chestnut, she expressed some disappointment in not eating more.

“It wasn’t my best number, the numbers were pretty low across the board. I don’t know if it was the heat, but I really can’t complain. I wasn’t feeling in my best shape so I’m just glad that it was enough to pull off a sixth belt,” she said.

Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas holds the all-time women’s record of 45 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Chestnut and Sudo will each take home $10,000.

Spectators with foam hot dog hats, plastic noisemakers and homemade signs descended on Coney Island’s famed boardwalk for the contest.

The annual eat-off started in 1972, though the company has long promoted the event with a theatrical backstory that places its start date in 1916.

Chestnut has only lost once since 2007, when he pulled ahead of longtime foe Takeru Kobayashi for the first time. An ESPN documentary released Tuesday features the two former rivals and their extreme training regimens.

“It’s not something that there’s books written about,” Chestnut says in the film, which shows him lifting his head up and down with a weight dangling from his mouth. “There’s not trainers. Everything’s trial and error.”

Kobayashi no longer takes part in the event.

Spectator George Cartolano, 40, said his favorite part of the contest was “watching them try not to regurgitate.”

Elle Marks, 27, said she likes Chestnut because he’s relatable. “He’s a normal guy who just happens to be able to eat 74 hot dogs,” she said.

Chestnut’s next meal will probably be a “salad” and “a lot of liquid,” he said. But he’ll be back next year for the franks.

“As long as I’m healthy, as long as I’m happy and competitive, you can count me in,” he said.

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