NEW YORK (RNN) - If you're spending your Fourth of July declaring your independence from your diet, you're in good company.
The Fourth means it's time for the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, perhaps the greatest show of competitive gluttony on Earth.
And what's more American than shoving more calories down your throat in minutes than most people eat all week? And then turning it into a sport where you can win fame, cash and valuable prizes?
Americans like to eat. Americans like to win. And Americans like to watch other people eat astonishing volumes of food in what has to be our nation's grossest, but most weirdly entertaining tradition.
In all, 40,000 people will flock to Coney Island to watch the stars of Major League Eating compete for the national championship of competitive cramming, a 10-minute free-for-all of gorging, bun dunking, and stomach stretching.
But one tactic - the "Roman incident" - AKA, vomiting, results in an immediate disqualification.
Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, who holds the world record for scarfing down a phenomenal 68 Nathan's hot dogs in 10 minutes, hopes to chomp his way to a sixth straight title this year, tying the record set by Japan's competitive eating whiz kid Takeru Kobayashi from 2001 to 2006.
Chestnut brought the title back to American soil and beat Kobayashi the next three contests.
Kobayashi did not compete in 2010 or 2011 after refusing to sign a contract with Major League Eating. He won't compete this year either, spinning off the Crif Dog Classic as an alternative hot dog-eating competition.
Chestnut is No. 1 in the world rankings (yes, there are rankings).
And for the second year, a women's division champ will be crowned, where Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas will defend her title.
Don't let her petite frame fool you - weighing only 100 pounds, she crammed down an inspiring 40 hot dogs in 2011.
Ranked No. 4 in the world by Major League Eating, she brings an impressive resume to the table. She is the five-time U.S. Chicken Wing Champ (powering down more than 6 pounds of bird in 12 minutes, defeating even the mighty Chestnut); World Oyster Eating Champ (47 dozen in eight minutes); and World Cheesecake Eating Champ (11 pounds in nine minutes).
Thomas is only one of two women in the world Top 10.
What's a stake? Only the coveted mustard colored belt (Pepto Bismol pink for the girls), and a $20,000 prize.
(Disclaimer: Professional eaters perform on a closed course. Do not attempt at home.)
But if you do bravely dare to go toe-to-toe (or bun-to-bun) with the competitors, you can stage your own competition in real time or tape-delayed. The contest airs live at noon on ESPN3.com and on playback at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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