One 4th of July tradition lives on amid the coronavirus pandemic

iSrock/RomoloTavaniBy: ABC News

(NEW YORK) — As sport leagues prepare to resume their seasons following the COVID-19 outbreak, fans of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest are relishing in excitement that the competition will still take place this year.

George Shea, co-founder of Major League Eating and the event’s host, announced that New York City approved the annual 4th of July event, while emphasizing that staff and competitors will follow safety protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

On the ABC News Perspective Podcast, news correspondent Brian Clark featured George Shea telling ABC affiliate 1010 WINS that this classic competition is needed now more than ever. “We thought it was critical to maintain that tradition. And I think people need this. I think, I think New York needs it and I think America needs it.”

The Independence Day contest normally seats the competitive eaters right next to each other, while staff members remain in close proximity to hand them hot dog after hot dog, but Shea said event organizers are considering multiple social distancing plans to keep everyone safe during this July’s competition. “We’re working right now on a plexiglass system to see if we can separate the eaters.”

Shea added that they are also changing the location of the event, traditionally held at Surf and Stillwell Avenues on Brooklyn’s Coney Island. “It will be in Coney Island proper in a private, undisclosed location.”

The televised tournament may provide viewers a taste of what upcoming sporting events will look like, when fans will have to enjoy the action from the comfort of their home.

The experience will also differ for the competitors themselves. Shea explained that because of the health-and-safety modifications made to the competition, this year’s eaters will engage in a dog-eat-dog battle that’s more cutthroat than years past. “Usually, it is somewhere around 15 [competitors] for the women and around 20 [competitors] for the men. This year, it’s going to be basically five and five.”

Notably, essential workers will be honored at the contest for their hard work on the front lines of the pandemic. Event organizers will be raising money for food banks, and Nathan’s plans to donate 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City.

On 4th of July, Joey Chestnut, the men’s reigning champ, will defend his title and seek his 13th win. The 36-year-old champion also holds the world’s hot dog eating record for consuming 74 franks in 10 minutes. Competing in the women’s division, New York native Mickey Sudo will be fighting for her 7th Nathan’s Hot Dog victory. She has won the Mustard Belt for the past six consecutive years and currently sits at number 6 in the MLE rankings.

Fans can watch the action of the 104th Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Saturday, July 4, at 12 p.m. EST on ESPN.

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