- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

Paul Newman was a piker when he ate a mere 50 eggs in one hour in the film classic “Cool Hand Luke.” Alexandria’s Sonya Thomas ate 65 eggs in six minutes, and stopped only because they ran out.

Miss Thomas, a wisp of a woman who weighs anywhere from 100 to 110 pounds depending on the contents of her stomach, is a rock star in the world of competitive eating.

She is ranked No. 2 in the world by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE), second only to Japan’s Takeru Kobayashi, who for the past three years has won the annual Fourth of July hot-dog eating contest at Coney Island, the Super Bowl of competitive eating in New York City.

Miss Thomas, 36, has won roughly $30,000 in prize money since making her debut on the competitive-eating circuit just one year ago. She routinely outgorges men four times her size. She hopes to do the same tomorrow at Coney Island, where the contest will be televised live on ESPN.

When she started beating the 300-pound and 400-pound men who had dominated previous events, “at first they were so surprised. They feel like they lose their pride. … Now they know me.”

Highly competitive, she did not like being underestimated and dubbed herself “the Black Widow,” the spider known for devouring men.

“In golf, in the other sports, the women have been trying to beat the men, but they haven’t been able,” she said. “I’m going to try to do it for the women. … I really want to bring the Mustard Yellow Belt [awarded to the winner of tomorrow’s contest] back to America.”

The records Miss Thomas holds are astounding: 11 pounds of cheesecake in nine minutes, 9 pounds of crawfish jambalaya in 10 minutes, 8 pounds of turducken (chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey) in 12 minutes, 43 soft tacos in 11 minutes, 167 chicken wings in 32 minutes.

Miss Thomas, who came to the United States from South Korea in 1997, said she finally found the proper outlet for her hypercompetitive nature in competitive eating.

“Bowling, tennis, table tennis, I’m good at a lot of stuff,” she said, but not good enough to dominate. “If I’m bowling and I get second or third place, I feel terrible. I want to do it, but my body doesn’t go.”

Her body, though, seems to place no limitations on her ability to eat. Miss Thomas said her doctors examined her and found that her stomach is only slightly larger than normal. But her slight, skinny build may be one of her biggest advantages.

The prevalent theory in the competitive eating world is the “Belt of Fat” theory, which postulates that skinny people’s stomachs can expand more easily because they are not corseted by the ring of fat that burdens the heavy eaters.

George Shea, one of the founders of the IFOCE, said the league even had researchers who have been trying to get a scientific paper published on the topic.

In Miss Thomas’ case, her stomach expands to the point where she appears to be a little bit pregnant. Only rarely, though, does the massive eating make her sick.

The cheesecake was a problem, though. It went down so easily and smoothly that before she knew it, she had consumed 11 pounds.

“When you touched my stomach, it was so tight it almost hurts,” she said, wincing at the memory.

Competitive eaten has grown rapidly in recent years thanks to the clever marketing of Mr. Shea and his brother, Richard, who parlayed their public-relations efforts for the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest into a year-round cottage industry.

“She is very well received” at events across the country, George Shea said. “People expect to see a big Bluto character, and she is nothing like that. … She is so small, it looks like she couldn’t eat a cup of cottage cheese.”

Ultimately, Miss Thomas said she would like to go to Japan and take on that country’s notorious competitive eating circuit, where prize money is bigger and eating contests stretch on for up to an hour.

“Thirty minutes, one hour. That’s too much,” she said, crinkling her nose in disgust. “That’s not healthy, don’t you think?”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide