Sonya 'Black Widow' Thomas: What It Takes To Be The World's Finest Female Competitive Eater
Sonya Thomas is the world's finest female competitive eater.
Known as the 'Black Widow' after her ability to regularly defeat men who are four to five times her size (she is just 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs a little over 7 stone) she recently became world turkey-eating champion by forcing more than five pounds of turkey in 10 minutes.
Born in South Korea, the 44-year-old professional glutton first entered the competitive eating scene in 2003 when she saw small-but-powerful swallowing legend Takeru Kobayashi at the Nathan's hot dog champs at Coney Island, and realised that size was not a barrier to victory.
After entering next year's competition Thomas broke the female world record (25 hot dogs) and since then has carved out a sizeable niche in the Major League Eating world.
Since then she has risen as high as number two in the worldwide rankings (she is currently ranked fourth), has won the world-famous Wing Bowl chicken wing-eating contest (her record is 183 chicken wings in 12 minutes) and became the first female hot dog eating champion in 2011 by making 40 hot dogs disappear in 10 minutes.
Since it's Thanksgiving in America we asked the Black Widow to tell us what it takes to eat turkey on such a truly patriotic scale.
How did you first discover you were a good competitive eater?
I was always a good eater. I started about 10 years ago, but I'm a competitor. I was always a competitor. And I always knew I could eat a lot - you know I can eat a lot of food. I can put a lot of food in my stomach. What made me interested was competing with others. I saw it on TV and I saw the news about competitive eating, and I said 'oh, maybe I could try out, maybe I'll be good or maybe not'. The first contest I entered I won.
What was that competition?
The first competition I entered was Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition. It was the first year and they kept going and going, and the competition got better.
What does a competitive eater need to be successful?
All of competitive eating is about speed. It's speed, you know. Most of the time you have 10 minutes, 12 minutes to eat all you can eat. It's speed. I learned quickly. That's what happened.
How are you able to eat more than men who are so much bigger than yourself?
Competitive eating is mental. It's 60% or 70% mental. You have to be ready. I've you're ready mentally, you can win. The big guys, they've already had a lot of food so you know they can eat. But I don't know if they can handle it in that time period, in that 10 minutes. I have a very strong mind and I'm very competitive. I want to win so bad.
What is your training regime these days?
The first couple of years I did train because I was eating a lot of foods that I'd never eaten before. So I did train so I could get used to what it tastes like, and figuring out how I can eat it, but now I've been in many contests and it's similar - it's a lot of the same food. Now I don't train much, except for mental training. You really have to focus, otherwise you can lose.
Is competitive eating your only job?
No, professional eating is my second job, my hobby. I have a full time job as an investments manager.
Can you still enjoy food in normal life?
In normal life I really enjoy food. I eat slowly, taste the food and - I like food! I enjoy food. When I'm competing the food, virtually I can't taste it. There is no time.
Tell us about this year's world turkey eating championships, which you won. Did you enjoy it? What was the atmosphere like?
The turkey contest was good - turkey is not my favourite food. But this time I did taste the food and it was really good! And then the crowd was interesting. It was all Americans because it's traditional at Thanksgiving. I had fun, and I won so I'm really happy!
What do you think about Takeru Kobayashi's attempt to break the turkey eating world record at his own private (non Major League Eating-endorsed) event? Is he chicken (no pun intended)?
For me, I don't want to compete by myself. I like to compete with others. You can prove yourself. When you're eating by yourself I don't know... But anyway, he's a good eater. For me there is no motivation for me on your own. It's sport. You have to compete with others.
What are your goals for the future?
I'm happy right now in myself. I've been trying to be number one for 10 years, right, but the highest I've come is second place, number two in the world, about five years ago. I just want to be happy, and really enjoy myself with competitive eating.