The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

Is there anything more distinctly American than celebrating our independence by holding a contest to see who could consume the most processed meat? Photographer Erin Siegal and I ventured out to Coney Island to take it all in.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

We arrived at the corner of Surf and Stillwell around 10am, a little more than two hours before the contest kicked off. This giant countdown clock thingie let all of us in attendance know exactly how long we had to bake in the hot sun before the start of the main event.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

Since we had some time to kill, we went over to Nathan's for a breakfast of cheese fries and chili dog. I mean, how could we not?

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

Of the estimated 50,000 people in attendance yesterday, this guy, wearing blue jean cutoffs and a giant wiener on his head with his nipples painted red, white and blue, stood out to me more than any other. I wasn't sure whether I should admire his unbridled enthusiasm for the event or if I should mock him mercilessly for being a Herculean tool. I'm still going back and forth on this.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

This will be my girlfriend in 15 years or so. Isn't she just so damn precious? I can just see us holding hands while walking at night along the River Seine in Paris, diamonds reflecting in her eyes all the while. It will be so fantastically fine.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen as much red, white and blue as I saw yesterday.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

One of the more interesting and surprising takeaways from attending the event yesterday was seeing the passion of the competitive eating circuit's fans. At various points in the time leading up to the start of the contest, the Joey Chestnut fans and the Takeru Kobayashi fans, many of them traveling great distances to attend, took turns taunting each other from opposite sides of the crowd.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

About an hour before the start of the contest, a black bus carrying all of the competitors arrived. Pictured here is Tim "Eater X" Janus, exiting the bus with his game-face on.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

Before the start of the main event Erin, a longtime vegetarian, fought her way through the crowd to get some pics of the competitors up close. After it was over one of the first things out of her mouth was, "That was one of the grossest things I've ever witnessed."

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

This is Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, currently ranked 6th in the world by Major League Eating. At 5'5'', 105 lbs, she holds the world record for most oysters eaten in 10 minutes (46 dozen), and is the reigning champion in the cheesecake, buffalo wing, Vienna sausage, baked beans, fried okra and lobster categories. She came in 6th overall yesterday after eating 41 hot dogs.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

For most of the competition, Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi were neck and neck, with Chestnut maintaining a lead of one or two hot dogs throughout. Here, about 2/3 of the way through, is where Chestnut usually slows down, but yesterday he powered through and kicked it into overdrive. Look at the intensity on that man's face!

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

If ever a photograph perfectly captured the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, it is this one. Joey Chestnut ate 68 hot dogs to Kobayashi's 64 1/2.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

Major League Eating Chairman and event emcee George Shea announces Joey Chestnut as the winner. Throughout the day I thought that Shea was some sort of hired gun, some showman brought in to play host. Turns out he's the brains of the whole operation, a modern day P.T. Barnum if you will. He held court on stage all morning in the hours leading up to the hot dog eating contest, which was actually a small part of a larger circus, albeit the culmination everyone came to see.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

After it was all over, leftover Nathan's hot dogs were distributed to the hungry masses.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

These guys were some of the happy recipients of the free leftover hot dogs passed out after the competition had ended.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

Naturally, Megadeath fans love free leftover hot dogs.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

If you've ever wondered what the floor of the platform on which the hot dog eating contest is held looks like after the event is over, now you know.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

New York City sanitation workers assigned to work Coney Island on July 5th are not to be envied.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

After it was all over we met up Tim Janus and some of the other competitors at Ruby's on the boardwalk for drinks. All of them were hoping to have bowel movements soon so that they could get on with their day in comfort. This is what Tim's belly looked like after eating 53 hot dogs, an effort that landed him in 4th place overall.

The Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest Is America

This young lady was going around collecting autographs on her event pass for her boss, who she said was a "huge fan" of competitive eating. She plans to ask for a raise later in the week.