Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas (born Lee Sun-kyung (이선경) in 1967) is a top-ranked Korean-born American competitive eater from Alexandria, Virginia. Thomas joined the International Federation of Competitive Eating in 2003 and quickly rose to the top of the ranks, beating eating greats such as Cookie Jarvis and Eric Booker.
The 98-pound Thomas is the number four competitive eater in the United States, and ranked fifth in the world , with 29 world titles. Her nickname "The Black Widow" refers to her ability to regularly defeat men four to five times her size. While the size of her stomach is only slightly larger than normal, her skinny build is perhaps her biggest advantage, allowing her stomach to expand more readily since it is not surrounded by the ring of fat common in other heavy eaters. She holds records in over 25 eating competitions, though none of her wins have come in competitions versus top-ranked eater Takeru Kobayashi.
Her most famous result is 37 hot dogs in 12 minutes (July 4, 2005 at Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest), setting a then-record for American competitors (which was also the female record). On August 8, 2005, she consumed 35 bratwursts in 10 minutes, beating the previous 10-minute record of 19.5 bratwursts, although her record was beaten in 2006 by Takeru Kobayashi.
Thomas was born in Kunsan, South Korea
to parents of modest means. She worked her way through college as a typist, and obtained a degree in hotel management. Having difficulty finding a job commensurate with her degree, she emigrated to the United States in 1997, where she was hired as a manager at the Burger King
on Andrews Air Force Base
Fitness and training regime
To stay in shape, Sonya has one big meal a day, with lots of green vegetables and fresh fruit, and always avoids junk food. She exercises by walking on an inclined treadmill for two hours, five times per week. She also regularly visits all-you-can-eat buffets at restaurants. The night before a contest, she fasts all night in order to put an edge on her appetite.
After seeing Kobayashi (approximately 145 pounds) win the 2002 Nathan's contest, Thomas realized a smaller stature was not an impediment to being a world-class eater, and entered the competitive eating circuit. In her first contest, the June 2003 Nathan's qualifier held at the Molly Pitcher
rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike
, her tally of 18 hot dogs took first place and enabled her to compete in the July 4th competition
held at Coney Island
. Her total of 25 hot dogs there broke the women's record set three years earlier by Takako Akasaka
, the dominant female in Japanese competitive eating. Thomas had several strong performances in the remainder of 2003, including record setting victories in turducken
competitions. At a single-person exhibition in a rock festival in Indianapolis
, she ate 65 hard-boiled eggs in under 7 minutes, setting a record and amazing the skeptical concertgoers. Though Thomas had only competed for half of 2003, the International Federation of Competitive Eating
(IFOCE) named her Rookie of the Year.
Thomas' first major victory that put her on the competitive eating map was in the 2004 Wing Bowl
. Her tally of 32 hot dogs in the 2004 Nathan's Hot Dog contest was the most ever eaten by a male or female American competitor at the time. The only eaters besides Kobayashi to defeat Thomas between the 2004 and 2005 Nathan's contests were Bill "El Wingador" Simmons in the controversial 2005 Wing Bowl
, and Dale Boone, who won a contest eating overheated baked beans after he doused the beans in water to cool them down.
Challenge and Response
When Thomas undertook a challenging schedule of three contests in three cities on Labor Day weekend 2005, she had not lost a contest to anyone besides Kobayashi since the Wing Bowl
in early February. Several last-minute victories foreshadowed that her streak would not last forever. At the Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, NY
, Ms. Thomas lost to Eric "Badlands" Booker in a chicken wing contest and then lost a waffle eating contest in Atlanta the next day to the fast-rising rookie Joey Chestnut
, giving her a two event losing streak to replace her winning streak. Thomas' waffle defeat was avenged on Labor Day, however, when she out-ate Chestnut in the Chattanooga, TN Krystal Square Off
qualifier. Thomas ate 57 Krystal Burgers
to Chestnut's 56.
Before the GoldenPalace.com turkey eating contest in New York City Thanksgiving Eve, Sonya Thomas had gone three months without winning a non-qualifying contest, although she did have two impressive victories in qualifiers during that span. It appeared that Joey Chestnut would soon claim the title of the leading American eater from Thomas. The civil engineering student from San Jose State had defeated Thomas in three of their last four match-ups and was the first eater to lead Kobayashi for the majority of a contest at the Krystal Square Off in Chattanooga the previous week. Although Thomas came in third, the silver lining was her domination of Kobayashi on a pound for pound basis: Thomas 56 burgers / 100 lb. = 0.56, Kobayashi 67 burgers / 170 lb. = 0.39.
At the turkey contest, Sonya Thomas was able to dramatically reverse her recent slump and defeat Joey Chestnut without last second heroics, which she had not been able to do since Nathan's hot dog contest on July 4. Thomas' momentum continued the following week at a meatball contest in Atlantic City. Her total of 10 lb. 3 oz. beat Chestnut by two pounds and almost doubled her total from the previous year's meatball contest. Thomas' continued improvement, along with Chestnut's rapid ascent appears to give Kobayashi more to worry about in 2006 than at any time in his dominant career.
On August 13th of 2006, Thomas won her Asian debut competition in Hong Kong while setting her 28th eating record, by consuming 17 Chinese-style lotus seed buns in 12 minutes.
In the Media
- She was featured in a Mastercard Paypass commercial. By accident, she meets Takeru Kobayashi, a male competitor, in a convenience store. Their eyes flash, and they begin a hot dog eating duel, which they pay for using the Paypass card.
Sonya recently appeared in a new episode of Nickelodeon show "iCarly" as Sam's personal chef, Chef Sonya.
She continued to make 2 grilled cheese sandwiches and some pie, among other things.
, Thomas earned more than $50,000 in prize money and made extensive media appearances. She is unsure how long she will continue eating competitively, but she hopes to own a fast-food franchise one day. She would like to compete in Japanese eating contests, which pay more but last longer than she prefers. She intends to continue eating competitively until she either loses her desire, or falls out of the ranks of the elite eaters.
Training and competition notes
- Thomas exercises up to two hours a day on an incline treadmill, and has maintained her weight since she started competing in 2003, down from 135 pounds when she worked as a typist in Korea. Her lowest weight has been 99 lb. at Wing Bowl XII in 2004.
- She only eats one very large meal a day, which takes several hours for her to complete. A typical post-work meal for her would be three large orders of fries, a chicken Whopper, 20 chicken tenders, and two 32-ounce diet soft drinks.
- She does not practice eating at maximum speed for more than a two-minute period.
- Her favorite foods to eat in competitions are hard-boiled eggs, oysters and chicken wings.
- She claims to have had remaining stomach capacity after all her contests, except after eating the nine pound Barrick burger, which took her 48 minutes to finish. She ate enough oysters to set the untimed record for oyster eating after the 2005 oyster competition was officially over.
- She believes that the combined weight of the Barrick burger, bun and water she drank was probably 17 or 18 pounds, and that this is approximately her current gastronomic maximum.
- She believes her best chance of beating Kobayashi would be in an 8–10 minute contest, in which superior technique could be a deciding factor. In a longer contest she feels that Kobayashi's advantage in stomach capacity (he can eat over 20 pounds) would be too much to overcome.
- She had difficulty eating a hot dog in under a minute when she first started training for her first contest, the 2003 Nathan's qualifier. After practicing, she was able to consume 18 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
- She out-ate Randy Thomas, a pro football player noted for his appetite, consuming 6.5 pounds of shrimp in 10 minutes to his 1.5 pounds.
- 1st place in "National Buffalo Wing Eating Contest" and "Buffet Bowl" at Buffalo, NY's WingFest 2007
- 5.75 pounds of tempura deep fried asparagus spears in 10 minutes
- 11 pounds of downtown Atlantic cheesecake in 9 minutes
- Chicken nuggets
- 80 chicken nuggets in 5 minutes
- Chicken wings
- 173 chicken wings in 12 minutes
- 46 three ounce crabcakes in 10 minutes
- 65 hard boiled eggs in 6 minutes and 40 seconds
- 4 pounds, 14 1/4 ounces of Wegman's Fruitcake in 10 minutes
- 7 burgers (3/4 pound) "Thickburgers" in 10 minutes
- 9 pounds of crawfish jambalaya in 10 minutes
- 44 lobsters totaling 11.3 pounds of lobster meat in 12 minutes
- 46 dozen Acme Oysters in 10 minutes
- 6 extra large Baci pizza slices in 15 minutes
- Pulled pork
- 43 soft tacos in 11 minutes
- Tater tots
- 250 tater tots in 5 minutes
- 7 3/4 pounds Turducken.com Thanksgiving Dinner in 12 minutes
Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest results
| Year of Contest
|| Hot Dogs
| 2003 Qualifier
|| held at Molly Pitcher Rest Area, New Jersey
| 2003 Contest
|| 5th place, & female record
| 2004 Qualifier
|| held at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
| 2004 Contest
|| 3rd place, female record, & U.S. record
| 2005 Qualifier
|| tied female & US record; held at Norfolk, Virginia
| 2005 Contest
|| 2nd place, US record, & female record
| 2006 Contest
|| 3rd place, tied female record
| 2007 Contest
|| 5th place, female record