NEW YORK (AP) -- Joey Chestnut chomped down a record 68 hot dogs, capturing his third straight July Fourth hot-dog eating contest at Coney Island, an annual showcase for flamboyant hot dogging contestants eager to show they really are what they eat.
Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., hoisted the American flag and then stood proudly like an Olympic athlete as The Star-Spangled Banner played following his 68 to 64½ dog victory over his archrival, six-time titleholder Takeru Kobayashi.
As soon as he knew he had won, he shot his right fist into the air, his mouth still bulging while he chewed the last of his wieners at Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.
"This is great," Chestnut told ESPN, which broadcast the 10-minute contest live. "After the second minute, I knew that my body was cooperating and it was going to be hard to beat me."
The 25-year-old Chestnut led most of the way, seemingly coasting to victory in contrast to last year, when he and his Japanese rival both gobbled 59 hot dogs, forcing a dramatic five hot dog eat-off before Chestnut emerged victorious.
His lead was a contrast to 2005, when Kobayashi trounced Chestnut 49 dogs to 32 dogs. And the number of dogs consumed showed how far the contest has come since the first one in 1916, when 13 dogs were enough to win. Even by 2000, 25 dogs secured victory.
On Saturday, Chestnut and Kobayashi far outpaced their closest competitor, third-place finisher Patrick Bertoletti, who downed 55 frankfurters.
Showboating for the cameras prior to the contest, 19 contestants were introduced individually with the kind of fanfare normally reserved for the start of a professional sports championship.
Under sunny skies and with a giant blowup Heintz ketchup container at the side of the stage, the contestants got off to a start they could relish.
Kobayashi had a slight lead at the eight-dog mark after the first minute, but Chestnut pulled ahead seconds later. The lead changed hands several more times before Chestnut went in front for good with about seven minutes left.
At the five-minute mark, Chestnut led 42 dogs to 40 dogs as he and Kobayashi, standing side by side, alternately stuffing hot dogs and sips of water into their mouths, excess liquid and specks of food invariably dribbling down their faces.
Kobayashi was wearing a T-shirt that included autographs from Japanese Olympic athletes.
With a minute to go, Chestnut led 63 dogs to 61 dogs and was ahead 66 to 64 with 10 seconds left.
"I knew I had the capacity for 70-plus hot dogs. Once I realized I had cushion, it helped me keep my pace and keep it safely," he told ESPN.
He noted that no matter how high the dog-eating record goes, Kobayashi is at his side.
"Kobayashi came out wanting to win. He ate the most he ever has," he said.
The champion said he planned to celebrate his victory Saturday night with a lighter touch: a cobb salad with ranch dressing.