NEW YORK (AP) — Patrick Bertoletti of Chicago gobbled down 58 hot dogs to win his first men’s title Thursday at the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, taking advantage of the absence of the event’s biggest star.

Bertoletti won in a tight, 10-minute race where the leader bounced back and forth. The 39-year-old Bertoletti defeated 13 competitors from around the world in a test to see who can wolf down the most hot dogs in 10 minutes.

“I wasn’t going to stop eating until the job was done,” Bertoletti said.

Bertoletti bested his prior record of 55 hot dogs at the event, held every Independence Day on New York’s Coney Island.

The reigning men’s champion, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, didn’t attend the competition this year over a sponsorship tiff. Instead, Chestnut will compete against soldiers at a U.S. Army base in El Paso later in the day. Chestnut won 16 out of 17 previous competitions.

Bertoletti said he lost weight and practiced for three months with “an urgency” to prepare for Thursday’s event, thinking he had a good chance of winning.

“With Joey not here, I knew I had a shot,” he said. “I was able to unlock something that I don’t know where it came from. But I’m not complaining.”

Earlier Thursday, defending champion Miki Sudo of Florida won her 10th title in the women’s division.

Sudo consumed 51 hot dogs in 10 minutes — and set a new world record for women.

“I’m just happy to call this mine for another year,” Sudo said after winning her 10th pink belt.

The 38-year-old dental hygiene student won last year after forcing down 39 1/2 hot dogs.

Sudo defeated 13 competitors, including 28-year-old rival Mayoi Ebihara of Japan. Ebihara came in second after eating 37 hot dogs in 10 minutes. She was also the runner-up in 2023. Sudo also consumed more than her partner, former Florida bodybuilder Nicholas Wehry, who ate 46 hot dogs in the men’s competition.

Bertoletti’s victory marks the first time the famed mustard belt has gone to someone besides Chestnut since 2015.

Thousands of fans, some wearing foam hot dog hats, flock each year to the event held outside the original Nathan’s location in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, a beachfront destination with amusement parks and a carnivalesque summer culture. Rich Shea, CEO of Major League Eating, which organizes the event, noted how people still came out in droves even though Chestnut was not there.

“Just a great competitor, a great guy, a grown man, and a man who’s made a choice not to be here today,” he said of the popular eating champ on ESPN. “But fortunately for us, tens of thousands of people are crowding around Nathan’s Famous. It’s a pilgrimage every year. This is not a paid Hollywood crowd. This is excitement.”

Competitors came from over a dozen states and five continents, with prospects from Brazil, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia and the Czech Republic vying for the coveted title and $10,000 prize money.

Last year Chestnut, of Indiana, chewed his way to the title by downing 62 dogs and buns in 10 minutes. The record, which he set in 2021, is 76.

Chestnut was initially disinvited from the event over a sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods, a company that specializes in plant-based meat substitutes and which advertised on ESPN throughout the event on Thursday.

Major League Eating has since said it walked back the ban, but Chestnut decided to spend the holiday with the troops anyway.

Chestnut said he wouldn’t return to the Coney Island contest without an apology.

The event at the Fort Bliss army base in El Paso, scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, will use traditional franks, with Chestnut attempting to out-eat four soldiers in five minutes.

Even though he won’t be eating their vegan products, Impossible Foods is promoting Chestnut’s YouTube livestream of the exhibition by flying airplanes with banners over Los Angeles and Miami. The company will also donate to an organization supporting military families based on the number of hot dogs eaten at the event, a spokesperson said.

Miki Sudo, right, reacts after winning the women’s division in the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, Thursday, July 4, 2024, at Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Sudo ate a record 51 hot dogs. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)