- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

When it comes to eating contests, muscle-bound ex-jocks and beer-bellied behemoths are a lock to win every time, right?

Not so, says Sonya Thomas of Alexandria.

The 107-pound Miss Thomas has won a qualifying round in the 88th Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest and will compete against 19 other finalists Friday in Coney Island, N.Y.

The contest, sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFCE), will be shown on ESPN at noon.

Aside from the international notoriety, the winner will receive a trophy, a year’s supply of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and the prized Coveted Mustard Yellow International Belt.

Miss Thomas, 35, who is 5-foot-7, impressed the competition at the Northeast regionals in Cranbury, N.J., by polishing off 18 hot dogs in 12 minutes. By comparison, William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a former NFL defensive lineman weighing more than 400 pounds, qualified in the Midwest regionals by eating 12.

“When I came in, all of these big guys laughed because I was so small, and I ate more than all of them,” she said. “It felt really good to find out I beat [Mr. Perry].”

Hank Price, a friend of Miss Thomas’, said he has witnessed her eating prowess over the years, and is not shocked by her success.

“When we go out to dinner I’ll order filet mignon and she’s ordering a 2-pound steak,” he said. “The waiters usually bring me the steak because they cannot believe she could eat so much.”

Miss Thomas, who grew up as one of eight children in Korea, always was able to eat plenty, but she never entered an eating competition until now.

“It is a good opportunity,” she said. “My friends and family were behind me, so I said I’d do it.”

Her insatiable appetite, she said, is not relegated to hot dogs, though she eats five a day.

“I also like boiled eggs, shrimp and oysters,” said Miss Thomas, who went for ice cream after her 18-dog performance. “And I usually have a big meal once a day.”

Miss Thomas’ seemingly bottomless pit has earned her an all-expenses-paid trip to Coney Island to square off against gluttonous giants from around the globe. Despite her inexperience in competitive eating, Miss Thomas said butterflies in the stomach will not be a problem. Her biggest concern, she said, will be pacing herself.

“My stomach doesn’t hurt, and I don’t get sick, but eating so much so fast takes getting used to,” said Miss Thomas, an employee at Bolling Air Force Base. “Twelve minutes is not a lot of time. But I think I’ll do OK because after the first contest, I wasn’t full.”

Her toughest competition likely will come from Takeru Kobayashi, ranked No. 1 in the world by the IFCE and the two-time defending champion of the Nathan’s competition, which has been held annually since 1916. He broke the world record in 2001 by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes, followed by 50 last year. The previous world record was 25⅛.

Though she is aware of Mr. Kobayashi’s record, Miss Thomas is undaunted and looks forward to the challenge.

“All I can do is try my best,” she said. “Fifty hot dogs is a lot, but I think I have a shot. Mr. Kobayashi has taken the Mustard Belt to Japan for the last two years. I want to bring the title back to the United States.”

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