- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - This year’s Fourth of July race to stuff your face with hot dogs has a new women-only pigout.

“Serena Williams didn’t have to beat Roger Federer to win the Wimbledon title, and we don’t think Sonya Thomas should have to beat Joey Chestnut,” said master of ceremonies George Shea.

Thomas, known as The Black Widow of competitive eating, set a women’s world record July 4, 2009, by stuffing 41 hot dogs into her 105-pound frame in 10 minutes.

Thomas and eight other women will compete Monday on Coney Island just before the men’s stomach-churning Nathan’s Famous hot dog feast, which this year again features world champion Chestnut, nicknamed Jaws. The 27-year-old from San Jose, Calif., ate his way to a fourth consecutive championship last year by downing 54 dogs for the $20,000 purse.

Notably absent again this year is his chief rival, Takeru Kobayashi, who held the world record for hot dog eating from 2001 to 2007 but plans his own eating contest on a Manhattan rooftop seven miles away.

Three Chinese contenders flew in from Beijing to join the competition, which will be televised live on ESPN.

Although women don’t compete directly against men in most sports, Shea said, Thomas has beaten Chestnut in the past. She ate 181 chicken wings to his 169 during the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo last September.

Nathan’s officials say they feel that women champions like the diminutive Thomas and Juliet Lee, also weighing about 105 pounds, “are not getting full exposure for their accomplishments; we’re selling them short.” Chestnut weighs in at 200-plus pounds.

Hence, the added competition on the same stage as the men.

“To me, this excitement is similar to when women were given the right to vote,” says challenger Larell Marie Mele, a 133-pounder from Long Pond, Pa.

The female competition will start at 11:30 a.m.

To add to the day’s yuck factor, a special pink champion’s belt was made for the ladies _ by sponsor Pepto-Bismol. The winner of the men’s contest takes home the Nathan’s mustard belt.

The pink belt made its debut at the annual contestant weigh-in Friday morning outside City Hall, with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg presiding.

About 40,000 spectators this year will enjoy state-of-the-art Italian-made rides that are part of the redevelopment of the People’s Playground, the Brooklyn neighborhood by the boardwalk that fell into seedy disrepair in recent years after serving as an escape for generations of Americans.

Last summer, Luna Park kick-started the renewal, which is part of Bloomberg’s vision of turning the seafront into an amusement and entertainment mecca with restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores and hotels.

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