This year a woman will finally take home the top prize in Nathan’s Famous July Fourth International Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Nathan’s Famous, Inc. has announced the first-ever women’s-only contest to occur just before the men’s contest on July Fourth.
Women will have the chance to compete for a $5,000 purse for first place. However, that prize is still far less than the top prize for men: in 2009, Joey Chestnut took home $20,000 for his first place hot-dog eating finish.
“Each year we see more and more women entering our qualifying events in the hopes of making it to Coney Island,” said Wayne Norbitz, president and COO of Nathan’s Famous, Inc, in a statement. “We surely have had some impressive female eaters compete on July 4th, so we’re introducing this new round to give female competitors the notoriety they deserve.”
The qualifying circuit begins three months before the contest and visits more than a dozen cities. The male and female winner from each city will qualify for the ultimate eating competition on July Fourth.
Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas, ranked No. 4 in the world by Major League Eating, is favored to be the women’s champion.
A resident of Alexandria, Va., Thomas has eaten her way to victory in contests involving oysters and hard-boiled eggs, but never hot dogs. Her personal record of 41 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes cannot beat the hot-dog-gorging expertise of male legends like Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi.
In 2009, Chestnut won the competition by stuffing 68 hot dogs and buns in his mouth in ten minutes. Kobayashi came in a close second with a total meal of 64.5 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes.
Juliet Lee, a cranberry sauce-eating champion, and Larell Mele, an “impressive rookie” according to Major League Eating, both pose serious challenges to Thomas in the women’s eating contest. However, Major League Eating chairman George Shea has high hopes for Thomas' performance.
“Leading sports organizations including the NCAA, USTA and professional golf have long had separate championships for men and women,” said Shea in a statement. “Sonya Thomas has been called the Michelle Wie of Brie and the Mia Hamm of Ham, but she’s never been called Nathan’s Famous July Fourth Champion. Perhaps this is the year she secures that title.”
An estimated 40,000 fans regularly visit Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues on Coney Island.
The ESPN telecast drew 1.7 million viewers in 2010. The contest has occurred every year since 1916, the year Nathan’s Famous was founded.
Major League Eating sanctions the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Circuit and ensures the contests are judged professionally and that safety standards are in place at each event.