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With Plexiglass and Piles of Hot Dogs, a Fourth of July Tradition Lives On

With Plexiglass and Piles of Hot Dogs, a Fourth of July Tradition Lives On

With Independence Day celebrations canceled around the country, one distinctly American tradition continued on Saturday despite the pandemic: the annual pilgrimage of competitive eaters to Coney Island for the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. But with cheering crowds turned away to promote social distancing, contestants instead chowed down amid a chorus of gulping and chewing from their competitors.

Held without fail every Fourth of July since 1942, the event ordinarily draws thousands to the original Nathan’s location in Brooklyn. Spectators sweat beneath foam hot dog hats, cheering as they watch a panel of competitors dunk the sausages into water — to soften the buns — all in the name of America.

“The Nathan’s Famous contest is synonymous with July Fourth, America and the celebration of freedom,” said the event’s host, George Shea, who is known for his extravagantly patriotic commentary. He introduced the winner of the 2019 men’s competition as “the very vessel of our freedom” and “the champion of the Fourth of July.”

But there was no crowd this year to cheer raucously, and the competitive eaters, who usually hover over their piles of hot dogs shoulder to shoulder, were spaced apart from one another. The contest was limited to five women and six men to allow for adequate social distancing. One woman was unable to attend because of restrictions on travel to New York from Arizona, where coronavirus cases are surging.

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