With Joey Chestnut out, Patrick Bertoletti wins Nathan's hot dog eating contest

Patrick Bertoletti celebrates after winning the men's division of Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest
Patrick Bertoletti celebrates after winning the men's division of Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest Thursday at Coney Island in Brooklyn. Bertoletti ate 58 hot dogs. (Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)

With the controversial absence of its king, Joey Chestnut, the competitive eating world turned its eyes Thursday to Coney Island, where an open field of competitors aimed to usurp the crown at Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest.

After 10 minutes of scarfing hot dogs, a new men’s champion emerged — Patrick Bertoletti. With mouth agape and stomach expanded, Bertoletti devoured 58 hot dogs to capture the Yellow Mustard Belt, outlasting 13 competitors.

For the first time in eight years, a new men’s champion was crowned.

Bertoletti, a Chicago native, returned to the event as Major League Eating's No. 9-ranked eater in the world. In his sixth appearance, he surpassed his personal best total of 55.

"Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” Bertoletti said on ESPN2 after the competition. “Today, I’m getting married.”

The silver went to Geoffrey Esper of Oxford, Mass., the favorite going into the event, who ate 53 hot dogs, while James Webb of Australia secured third place with 52 dogs consumed.

“I just can't believe it. I always finished second or third, and this is big,” Bertoletti said. “With Joey not here, I knew I had a shot. I unlocked something inside me that I don't know where it came from, but I'm not complaining.”

On the women’s side, the new potential face of competitive eating emerged as Miki Sudo, the reigning queen of the event, set a women's world record by downing 51 hot dogs in 10 minutes. She clinched her 10th Pink Belt in historic fashion, beating her previous world record of 48 1/2 hot dogs and buns and surpassing the 50-dog threshold.

“I finally did it,” Sudo said on ESPN2 after the competition. “We finally beat 50 hot dogs. So much of this is thanks to Mayoi Ebihara, who pushed me so much. Honestly, I prepared even more because I knew she was going to bring it.”

Tokyo-based Ebihara finished second, gobbling 37 hot dogs. Ebihara gave Sudo a run for her money for the second consecutive year, keeping pace with the champion for nearly the entire competition.

Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco, who claimed victory in the 2021 competition during Sudo’s absence, finished third, gobbling 23 1/2 hotdogs and buns, falling short of her personal best of 32.

A mainstay in competitive eating, Sudo proved why she is the No.1-ranked competitive female eater and No. 3 overall. She has dominated the event every year since 2014, except for 2021, when she missed time because of her pregnancy with son Max.

“Ten years into this, I still have more to show,” Sudo said. “The women's records are just going to improve.”

This year's results may have an asterisk attached because the man synonymous with the event, Chestnut, was excluded after signing an endorsement deal with a rival brand of wiener, Impossible Foods, which produces vegan hot dogs.

MLE founder George Shea, who runs the Nathan's contest, refuted claims of a ban, telling CBS News, "He is never banned. He has never been banned. We want him there. We wanted him there. We conceded on all these elements. It was an exclusivity issue."

Either way, “Jaws’” star power was notably absent.

Chestnut has been the Goliath of the contest for the previous 17 years, winning 16 times. MLE, the governing body for numerous competitive eating contests, has crowned him "the greatest eater in history."

On average, Chestnut has eaten 66.47 wieners per year.

Chestnut was participating in a Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in Texas featuring Impossible Foods products later Thursday. He is also set to face his biggest rival, former Nathan's champion Takeru Kobayashi, in a Netflix special airing on Labor Day.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.