Sonya Thomas

Sonya Thomas

Sonya Thomas at the 2005 Midway Slots Crabcake Eating Competition
Born (1967-07-26) July 26, 1967
Kunsan, South Korea
Occupation Competitive eater
Korean name
Hangul 이선경
Revised Romanization Yi Seon-gyeong
McCune–Reischauer Yi Sǒn'gyǒng

Sonya Thomas (born Lee Sun-kyung on July 26, 1967), also known by her nickname The Black Widow, and "The Leader of the Four Horsemen of the Esophagus", is a top-ranked South Korean-born American competitive eater from Alexandria, Virginia.[1] Thomas joined the International Federation of Competitive Eating in 2003 and quickly rose to the top of the ranks, beating competitive eaters such as Ed "Cookie" Jarvis and Eric Booker. The 98-pound Thomas is the number four competitive eater in the United States. Her nickname "The Black Widow" refers to her ability to regularly defeat men four to five times her size.[2] 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.[3] She holds records in over 25 eating competitions,[4] and in December 2008, she set the world record for fruit-cake eaten in 10 minutes.

On July 4, 2005 she ate 37 hot dogs in 12 minutes 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.

On July 4, 2011, Thomas became the first champion of Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest for Women. Eating 40 hot dogs in 10 minutes, Thomas earned the inaugural pink Pepto Bismol Belt and won $10,000.[5] She defended and held on to that title the following year eating 46 hot dogs. On July 4, 2013, she again defended her title by eating 3634 hot dogs, just beating out Juliet Lee who ate 36 hot dogs.


Fitness and training regimen

To stay in shape, Thomas has one 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.[6][7] She also regularly visits all-you-can-eat buffets at restaurants.[8] The night before a contest, she fasts all night in order to put an edge on her appetite.


Thomas's first major victory that put her on the competitive eating map was in the 2004 Wing Bowl, where she became the first woman to win a Wing Bowl. [9] 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.

On July 4, 2011, Thomas became the first champion of Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest for Women. Eating 40 hot dogs in 10 minutes, Thomas earned the inaugural Pink Belt and won $10,000.[5]

Thomas had won 1st place in the National Buffalo Wing Festival US chicken wing eating championship five-years straight from 2007-2011. On September 4, 2011, she attained the United States Chicken Wing Eating Championship in Buffalo, New York by eating 183 chicken wings in 12 minutes. On September 2, 2012 Joey Chestnut consumed 191 wings (7.61 pounds) in 12 minutes to take competitive-eating trophy from the five-year champion Sonya Thomas.[10]

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 turkey eating contest in New York City Thanksgiving Eve, 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 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, Thomas was able to dramatically reverse her recent slump and defeat 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, gave Kobayashi more to worry about in 2006 than at any previous time in his dominant career.

On August 13, 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.[11]


In 2005, Thomas earned more than $50,000 in prize money and made extensive media appearances.[12] 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


Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest results

Year of Contest Hot Dogs Placing
2003 Qualifier 18 held at Molly Pitcher Rest Area, New Jersey
2003 Contest 25 5th place, & female record
2004 Qualifier 26.5 held at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2004 Contest 32 3rd place, female record, & U.S. record
2005 Qualifier 32 tied female & US record; held at Norfolk, Virginia
2005 Contest 37 2nd place, US record, & female record
2006 Contest 37 3rd place, tied female record
2007 Contest 39* 5th place, female record
2008 Contest 34 6th place[17]
2009 Contest 41 6th place[18]
2010 Contest 36 4th place[19]
Women's Competition.
Beginning in 2011, Nathan's Famous was split into Men's and Women's Competitions.
2011 Contest 40 1st place, contest & U.S. record[20]
2012 Contest 45 1st place, contest & U.S. record[21]
2013 Contest 3634 1st place[22]

National Buffalo Wing Festival competition wins

Year of Contest Buffalo wings Time
2003 134 12 Minutes
2004 161 12 Minutes
2007 173 12 Minutes
2008 165 12 Minutes
2009 169 12 Minutes
2010 181[23] 12 Minutes
2011 183 12 Minutes

See also


  1. "Feature: Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas". EatFeats - competitive eating news, database, calendar & challenges. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  2. Moon, Amy. "ASIAN POP: Superchomp Korean-born Sonya Thomas is the No. 1 ranked female competitive eater in the USA." May 26, 2005. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  3. Barakat, Matthew. "At 100 pounds, chewing her way to stardom." Washington Times. July 2, 2004. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  4. "Sonya Thomas IS ... 'The Black Widow' of Competitive Eating." (personal website) Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  5. 1 2 Jen Chung. "Sonya Thomas, The First Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest Women's Champion!". Gothamist. Retrieved 2011-07-04.
  6. Dixey, Anne. "Could you stomach this?" Times Online. June 12, 2004. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  7. "Interview With Sonya Thomas." (live transcript) CNN. September 17, 2003. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  8. Staff Writer. "US 'speed eater' devours rivals." BBC News. March 30, 2004. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  9. Carlson, Peter. "A Tough Act to Swallow." Washington Post. January 31, 2004. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  10. Baldwin, Richard (September 5, 2012). "He ate 191 wings, but who's counting?". The Buffalo News. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  11. Kobayashi's Mastercard Paypass ad
  12. Markon, Jerry. "Making Room for Whatever Is on the Table." Washington Post. November 17, 2005. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  13. Harris, Sara Ann. "Pinch Me! I think I just saw her eat 552 oysters!" Louisiana Seafood. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  14. Demasio, Nunyo. "With Thomas, It's Not Just Food for Thought." November 10, 2004. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  15. "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  16. Gillen, Eric. "The Road to Turducken, Part 1." The Black Table. December 17, 2003. Retrieved on June 25, 2006.
  17. "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  18. "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  19. "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  20. "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  21. "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  22. "Major League Eating & International Federation of Competitive Eating". Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  23. Salazar, Cristian. "Va. woman devours 181 chicken wings in NY contest." September 5, 2010. Retrieved on September 5, 2010.
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