Can you hear the thunderous roar of the insatiable crowd? Can you feel the inflated, hamster cheeks of those select frankfurter gladiators who choose to pummel endless trays of hot dogs into their mouths as if their lives depended on it?
For the past ten years on the Fourth of July, pro eater Sonya Thomas has made the meat-strewn trek out to Coney Island from her home in Alexandria, Virginia, to compete in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. The 98-lb. Korean-born Thomas, who’s also known as “The Black Widow” for out-eating men four to five times her size, made history there last year when she was crowned the winner of the first ever women’s division, swallowing 40 hot dogs in 10 minutes. Befitting to the competition, she was bequeathed a Pepto Bismol pink belt and a prize of $10,000.
But dogs and watered-down buns aren’t the only foods that keep this petite champ’s digestive juices flowing. Ranked fifth in the U.S. and sixth overall in the International Federation of Competitive Eating (yes, we didn’t make that up), Thomas boasts 29 world titles and has competed in over 180 food competitions, which include hard-boiled eggs, mince pies, tater tots, pizza, crabcakes, asparagus, and even beat top eater Takeru Kobayashi in a fruitcake eating contest. But her undefeated specialties lie in gorging on oysters and chicken wings.
We had an opportunity to chat with “The Leader of the Four Horsemen of the Esophagus” and asked her all kinds of gastronomical questions. Warning: Her answers may give you heartburn…
Thomas is crowned champion of the first ever Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest for Women. July 4, 2011.
What made you want to be a pro eating competitor?
I’m very, very competitive. Anything I try, I have to be the best. I like competing…and I love to eat food. People laugh and think it’s all crazy stuff, but I don’t look at it that way; I’m just competing.
Which competition are you determined to win that you’ve never won before?
Nathan’s Hot Dog Competition. The women’s [competition] I can win easy, but I want to beat the men.
What’s your training regimen like?
I’ve been doing the hot dog competition for a long time—10 years straight. A couple years ago, I trained for speed for like, five minutes. I practiced swallowing. But I don’t practice anymore. I like hot dogs but not eating [them] fast.
Thomas beats out Eric ‘Badlands’ Booker (L) in the Wild Turkey World Championship. Nov. 2011.
When you’re training, do you have any particular music or songs that you listen to?
No music, but I talk to myself because the speed eating is mental. When I get nervous, even though I try to swallow, I can’t swallow! So, I talk to myself…after 30 hot dogs, you can feel yourself getting full…you can feel [the hot dogs] going up to your chest area. I start feeling sick!
Is there a food that you really want to see enter the pro-eating competition arena?
I really want to do a sushi-eating competition, and I think I’m pretty good at noodles, too—spaghetti and ramen—but I’ve never done it.
Who is your biggest competitor?
Joey Chestnut with the hot dogs—I can’t even come close. He can eat over 60 hot dogs. Me, a little over 40. This year I’m trying to eat 45; it’s a good number because this year I’m turning 45 years old. I really want to do that! That’s my goal, and I’m gonna try!
Watch Thomas and Joey Chestnut go at it in a buffalo chicken wing eating contest:
What is your favorite pro-eating competition?
Oysters. I hold the oyster record, 46 dozen oysters in 10 minutes in 2005. Nobody’s broken my record. Three weeks ago, I went to New Orleans, and I had 47 dozen oysters in 8 minutes. I set another record. It was non-stop; I just kept eating!
What’s the worst food competition (taste-wise) you’ve competed in?
I had never eaten it before, but two years ago they had some Rocky Mountain Oysters [contest]…have you ever heard of it? I thought it was some kind of oyster, and I registered for the competition, but they say it was bull testicles! I said, ‘Oh my gah!’ and I cancelled it—I didn’t want to be part of that competition!
What are your proudest accomplishments in the field?
I set the women’s record for the hot dog competition for last year. I’m happy about that. I won a chicken wing competition called Wing Bowl, and I won a car and beat 28 men. I beat Joey Chestnut two times in the chicken wing eating competition; I showed them I’m a chicken wing champion eater—not only with women but with men. And I’m also happy with my oyster record. Nobody has beaten me!
Can Thomas defend her Pepto Bismol winning title on July 4th this year? Those with sturdy stomachs must tune in to see…