By ALEX KATZ
NEW YORK (AP) — Ready, set, eat!
The two defending champion eaters and their challengers gathered with Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday for an official weigh-in ahead of New York's annual July Fourth hot dog eating contest.
Joey Chestnut and Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, who will defend their titles Wednesday on Brooklyn's Coney Island, weighed in at 210 and 100 pounds, respectively. Chestnut is vying for his sixth straight victory.
A display table in front of the weigh-in stage held two platters of neatly stacked hot dogs in buns, along with two bejeweled champion belts — mustard yellow for him, pink for her.
The 5-foot-5 Thomas, of Alexandria, Va., said she aims to beat her own record — 41 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes — by devouring 45 in this year's competition.
"I know my stomach can handle it," she said. "The only thing that needs work is your state of mind."
For his part, Chestnut, who hails from San Jose, Calif., couldn't care less about the numbers. He holds the contest record of 68 hot dogs and buns.
"I'm trying to eat enough to win," he said.
Bloomberg officiated at the City Hall Park ceremony, rattling off countless hot dog-themed puns.
"Let me be frank — this is one of my favorite traditions," he quipped. He later said of the contest: "No question it's going to be a dog fight."
After too much wordplay, however, the mayor threw caution to the wind when he asked: "Who wrote this?" — ending the sentence with a naughty word.
Known far and wide for his public health initiatives, Bloomberg didn't let his policy agenda preclude him from diving into a Nathan's Famous hot dog with mustard.
"I like fast food like everybody else," the mayor said at a news conference Monday.
He added: "Having it occasionally is fine. If you want to eat 65 hot dogs in 10 minutes that's even fine, just don't do it more than once a year and you won't have a problem."
The American Medical Association in June 2011 passed a resolution that recognized "competitive speed eating as an unhealthy eating practice with potential adverse consequences."
Chestnut, who said he runs "like a mad man" at least several times a week, told reporters that eating healthy and exercising regularly actually helps competitive eaters control their breathing, which is crucial in contests like Wednesday's.
With millions of viewers expected to tune into the competition, Chestnut marveled at the rising popularity of his sport and said that only college-aged students used to recognize him on the street.
"Now it's women with children, and people who read articles in normal magazines," he said. "I think the general public's eyes are open to it a little more, and a little bit more accepting. They realize that we just love to eat."
The Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest has been a city tradition for 97 years.
Nathan's President and COO Wayne Norbitz said the fast food chain will donate 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City.