Joey Chesnut (L) and Sonya Thomas laughed during the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest weigh-in ceremony on July 3, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW YORK -- Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas and Joey "Jaws" Chestnut successfully defended their titles at this year's Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island Wednesday.
Thomas set a new women's world record after downing 45 hot dogs and buns. The 100 pound champ smashed her previous record of 41 hot dogs, which she set last year.
"My technique is I dunk two hot dogs in the water cup and then eat," she said at Tuesday's weigh in.
Chestnut, who weighed in at 210 pounds, tied his world record by downing 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes. His victory Wednesday marks his 6th win at the competition.
The contest started nearly 100 years ago as a sideshow on the notorious boardwalk in Coney Island. All that changed when Nathan's Famous Restaurant saw the draw it had for the boardwalk, and especially the eatery.
Up until last year, men and women held contests together, but now have separate divisions.
"It's an American institution. America is able to celebrate freedom -- its rights, its freedoms, all of the joys that comes with that -- by eating hot dogs in the most absurd practice ever in mankind's history," said George Shea, who along with his brother, Richard Shea, and partner David Baer took competitive eating to a new level.
The three introduced the coveted mustard yellow championship belt, arranging for ESPN to telecast the competition live and promoting the "eaters" as professional athletes.
In addition to Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, the Sheas have organized other competitions, which they have dubbed Major League Eating.
Other contests include oysters, hamburgers, cheese steak, baby back ribs, buffalo wings, jalapenos, asparagus, meatballs, catfish and corned beef.
In past years, Major League Eating hyped up the gastric rivalry between Chestnut and another serial holder of the mustard yellow belt, Takeru Kobayashi.
Kobayashi set his first record at his debut Nathan's competition in 2001 by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He went on to take home the title through 2006.
In the years since, he has not participated because of a contract dispute with Major League Eating. The league places restrictive limits on endorsement and remuneration, his representatives said, and Kobayashi did not want to play along.
In 2010, Kobayashi was arrested when he stormed the stage at the competition. Last year, he contested from afar: on the roof of a Manhattan bar at the same time as Nathan's contest.
Kobayashi polished off 69 hot dogs and buns to the tune of a crowd chanting "Kobi! Kobi!" as the official Nathan's contest played on a television beside him, unofficially beating Chestnut's record.
This year, Kobayashi is participating in a separate contest altogether. The new contest is named for a newer New York hot dog institution, Crif Dogs, which started in 2001.
The Crif Dog Classic will take place at Roberta's, a restaurant with its own growing reputation in Brooklyn's hip Bushwick neighborhood, just as Nathan's eaters compete at Coney Island.
"You know we have asked Kobi probably two dozen times to come sit ... we have said let's sit, let's figure this out; we owe the world a rematch. He doesn't want to do that, I respect him," Shea said.
Despite other competitions, Shea said, no one can challenge Nathan's.
"You know that the World's Hot Dog Eating Champion is crowned in Coney Island and nowhere else, and that's where he'll be crowned," he said.
Addressing crowds at the weigh-in Tuesday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got in the spirit, rattling off a string of hot dog puns -- "dogged," "catch up," "cut the mustard" and "pronounced wiener."