weather icon Partly Cloudy

Henderson man savors winning Las Vegas qualifier for hot dog-eating contest

Updated April 22, 2017 - 10:52 pm

On Saturday afternoon, onlookers gathered at the Brooklyn Bridge in front of New York-New York to watch two fierce competitors battle it out.

Their mission? Eat as many hot dogs as possible in 10 minutes.

The hot dog eating competition marked the 20th anniversary of the Las Vegas qualifier for the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island.

Well-known repeat competitor Michelle Lesco, 33, of Tucson, Arizona, faced off against Rich LeFevre, 73, last year’s winner from Henderson.

It came down to the final few seconds, with LeFevre rallying for the Las Vegas title, eating 30 dogs to Lesco’s 29.

“I came in completely unprepared,” Lesco said, noting that she’d been too busy with work to get in practice. “I just paced myself a little bit too much.”

“I think that’s the hardest contest I’ve ever done,” LeFevre said after throwing up in a nearby trashcan. “That last minute was extra tough.”

LeFevre said he and his wife Carlene “have always been big eaters.”

In a 1985 road trip to Amarillo, Texas, the couple took on the Big Texan Steak Ranch’s challenge to eat a 72-ounce steak — with sides — and receive the meal for free. Both LeFevre and his wife accomplished the task. “It was easy,” he said.

They returned nearly every year before the new millenium and completed the challenge each time.

The LeFevres soon drew the eye of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the Donny and Marie Show. After eating two 72-ounce steaks in an hour, LeFevre competed at his first Las Vegas qualifier for the Coney Island contest in 2002.

“Previous winners had only eaten 12 (in 10 minutes),” LeFevre said. “I ate 20 on my first contest.”

Since then, LeFevre signed a contract with Major League Eating and competes in several eating contests each year.

He’s eaten steaks, watermelon, Spam and jalapeno peppers, often alongside his wife, who is also a competitive eater.

LeFevre said he and his wife have been dubbed the “royal couple of competitive eating” by Major League Eating chairman George Shea.

The eating hasn’t taken a toll on their health: LeFevre walks around 30,000 steps a day and plays pickleball. His wife takes exercise classes and uses a stationary bike at home.

And age isn’t a deterrent. “I think I’m doing as well now as I ever did,” LeFevre said. “If I were younger, I’d probably practice and train a lot more, too.”

Reigning Coney Island queen Miki Sudo, 31, automatically qualified for the event from last year’s win, but was on hand to watch Saturday’s competition and time Lesco.

“Michelle Lesco is a great friend of mine,” the Las Vegas resident said. The two have taken road trips and shared hotel rooms outside the competitive eating world and occasionally practice together.

“That means dinner together and also hitting the gym together,” Lesco said.

But, “for the 10 minutes on stage on Coney Island, we’re rivals,” said Sudo, a three-time national champion. “I’ll definitely be watching her.”

Contact Brooke Wanser at bwanser@reviewjournal.com. Follow @Bwanser_LVRJ on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
The top 10 rated beers in Nevada

If you’ve ever been curious about which beers are most popular in the Silver State, we have the answer. Stacker compiled a list of the highest rated beer in Nevada using ratings from BeerAdvocate .