While fireworks and beaches might be no-go zones in certain parts of the country this year, there’s one Independence Day tradition that you can still count on: the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
The annual wiener-wolfing competition will air once again again live on ESPN on July 4, but, like other professional sports, the 2020 installment was nearly undone by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After all, the Nathan’s event typically features tightly packed competitors gulping down the frankfurters in front of thousands of cheering fans. This year’s installment had to radically retool in order to get a green light.
According to George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating, the organization that puts on the event, it appeared that the league would have to cancel this year until officials found a way to move forward with a safe scenario. This year, competitors will be on the stage in a warehouse where they will be seated six feet apart and separated by plexiglass dividers. Shea tells Yahoo Life that the accommodations would not provide “the same vibe and energy,” as when there would be 15 eaters, 20,000 to 25,000 fans, and up to 100 members of the media covering the contest.
The crowd “really would amp them up,” says Shea of the contestants, but now he is tasked with providing all of the on-site enthusiasm.
Still, Shea anticipates some exciting developments in 2020’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Shea predicts that 12-time winner Joey Chestnut will take home the men’s title. The competitive-eating legend, whom Shea calls “an American hero,” could also break his own world record of 74 dogs. As for the women, Shea believes Miki Sudo will win another championship, stating that “she will obliterate the competition.”
Sudo has taken the title every year since 2014. But this year, she not only has her eyes on the world championship belt but has set herself an even loftier goal. “Time for me to finally take that world record,” she tells Yahoo Life. Sudo does admit that the lack of fans presents a challenge.
“It really helps to have that crowd to feed off of,” explains the six-time champ. Still, as soon as the competitor learned that the event would move forward, she “hit the ground running,” and Sudo thinks she will be going into the 2020 competition “stronger than ever.”
The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest “is my favorite day of the year,” says Shea, while expressing that he also feels the pressure to deliver to the TV audience. The event may look different, but the important part is that the organizers are keeping the tradition alive.
Sadly, there will be some contestants who will not be able to attend. The event is held in Coney Island, and as a result of travel restrictions, competitors from Arizona and Washington will not be able to make the to New York.
Despite the changes, fans can expect excitement, and maybe even the making of competitive-eating history. Nathan’s Hot Dogs is also using the event as a platform to raise awareness of the importance of the country’s essential workers. The company will be donating 100,000 hot dogs to New York City food banks to help those in need during this challenging year.
The Nathan’s Hot Dog Competition will air Saturday, July 4 at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT on ESPN.
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