NEW YORK (AP) - The Black Widow of competitive eating has narrowly defended her title.
Sonya Thomas, of Alexandria, Va., devoured 36 and three-quarters hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to win the women's competition at the annual Fourth of July Coney Island event.
The 100-pound Thomas went toe-to-toe with Juliet Lee with a second to spare. Lee ate 36 dogs.
The count was much lower than last year, when Thomas broke her own record by eating 45 hot dogs and buns.
The Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest has been a city tradition for 97 years.
Joey Chestnut is vying for his seventh straight title in the men's competition. His personal best and the record is 68 hot dogs and buns.
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It's a dogfight, a roast, a frank encounter, a contest to win in the wurst way. In short, it's an event that devours puns. With relish.
The annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest was set to, well, roll Thursday in Coney Island, with chomp champs Joey Chestnut and Sonya Thomas defending their respective men's and women's titles.
Chestnut, 29, is a six-time winner who set the record - 68 weiners and buns in 10 minutes - in 2009 and tied it last year. Thomas, 45, powered through 45 dogs to take the women's championship last year and also won in 2011, the first year women competed separately.
They likely will be tough to beat. But this competition can never rule out an upset - stomach, at least.
"Tomorrow's strategy: just find my rhythm really quickly," Chestnut, the 210-pounder nicknamed "Jaws" from San Jose, Calif., said after the ceremonial weigh-in near City Hall on Wednesday as he munched on a frank, the only thing he'd eaten that day amid a preparatory fast.
Chestnut said his pace has been uneven in the past, but "this year I'm trying to eat a little more gracefully, conserve my energy."
Thomas, a 100-pound dynamo known as the "Black Widow" of competitive eating, says the challenge of shoveling down dozens of franks is actually "more mental than physical."
"I have to fight with myself, so I'm going to try to really focus," said Thomas, of Alexandria, Va., where she manages a fast-food restaurant. And no, it doesn't serve hot dogs.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking at the weigh-in for his 12th and final year in office, aimed to set a record of his own by stuffing more than a dozen hot-dog-related puns into an elaborate sentence that started with "let's be frank" and ended by looking forward to congratulating the "weiner of the contest."
Now in its 98th year, the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest generally draws a crowd of thousands to marvel at contestants cramming frankfurters down their throats.
The chow down showdown is on this year despite concerns about a swaying, shuttered observation tower that spurred the closure of parts of the nearby amusement park this week. The shutdown didn't affect Nathan's.
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