By Noreen O'Donnell and Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joey Chestnut, the reigning top dog in the annual Coney Island hot dog eating contest, won his seventh consecutive title on Thursday, devouring 69 hot dogs and buns as thousands of fans urged him on.
"I feel a little full," Chestnut, 29, of San Jose, California, joked after the 10-minute competition. "I'm happy as heck. Things couldn't have gone much better."
Staged like a sporting event, with TV cameras trained on the colorfully nicknamed contestants and high piles of hot dogs, the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest is a summertime event that began in 1916, the year that Nathan's Famous food stand opened on Surf Avenue at New York's seaside Coney Island.
Chestnut, 220 pounds (100 kg) and nicknamed "Jaws," defeated 14 men at a long table to take the mustard yellow champion's belt home once again. He broke his record of 68 hot dogs.
"It was hot as heck out there," Chestnut said, but added that was to be expected in New York on July 4.
The women's champion, 45-year-old Sonya Thomas from Alexandria, Virginia, barely held on to her title, besting the next competitor by only three-quarters of a hot dog.
Thomas managed just short of 37 dogs in 10 minutes, significantly below her record of 45. Second-place finisher Juliet Lee, 46, from Germantown, Maryland, managed to swallow 36 hot dogs.
The 100-pound (45-kg) Thomas, known as "The Black Widow," said she had a problem with the water she had used to dunk the buns, a technique used to make the bread go down more easily.
"It was very hot water, maybe too hot," she said.
The heat was also an issue for Takeru Kobayashi, a competitive eater from Japan who staged a rival event in Manhattan. Kobayashi, 35 and 132 pounds (60 kg), was able to throw back just 67 hot dogs.
"It's too hot," said Kobayashi, whose hair was styled into a mohawk and dyed bright red. He complained of stiffness in his neck and shoulders, which he said was typical of speed eating.
"It's like I'm pregnant," he said.
Among the fans who had come out to cheer on Kobayashi were Michi and Shota Kato, who said Kobayashi was a friend and they occasionally shared a meal with him.
"Usually, he eats the same amount as us," Michi Kato said.
(Editing by Ian Simpson and Philip Barbara)