Sonia Thomas is thin. At 5-foot-5 and 99 pounds, the Alexandria, Virginia resident is one of those people who makes you think “she needs to eat like a bird.” The weight of the food eaten.
Unsurprisingly, despite her name, Thomas is Korean. Have you been to Korean BBQ? How do you feel when you leave the table? full? I also thought about it. (I once asked a Korean friend if her parents recognized her white boyfriend (now husband), and she sighed, “Well, he’s a foodie, so that’s fine.”)
Korean-born, 37-year-old, single, Thomas is America’s #1 competitive eater. She is ranked second in the world with 22 world titles and regularly outnumbers men by four or five times in competitions held throughout the year, earning her the self-proclaimed “Black Widow” nickname.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, competitive eating sounds like this: Competitors sit in front of a pile of baked beans or muffin balls or pork sandwiches, the timer starts, and they eat as fast as they can The more the better. They can until time runs out.
Lest you think this is some cheesy sideshow at county fairs, know that competitive eating has become a very popular sport (a label some observers object to) and it has its own governing body, the International Competitive Eating Federation (IFOCE).
The number of games has grown from 12 food events in 1997 to more than 100 last year, with 20,000 people coming to watch the wingbowl each year, and the food game’s Super Bowl Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Championship appeared in Jumbotron’s Times Square last year. According to Richard Shea of IFOCE, competitive eating is the fastest growing sport in the world.
In 2002, Fox aired a two-hour prime-time TV special called “The Gluttonous Bowl,” in which food fell from a trash can on a platform into a giant bowl 20 feet below. The world’s best diners feasted on a delicious smorgasbord of mayonnaise, butter and beef tongue.
Competitive diets have also spawned their own celebrity. World No. 1 eater “Tsunami” Ken Kobayashi won the previous Nathan competition by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes, double the previous record. The 5-foot-7, 145-pound Kobayashi also beat the elephant competition in the Gluttony Bowl, passing them and finishing the process by slurping more than 50 cow brains.
Thomas Jr. is the second tallest person in the world behind the equally slender Gobblemeister, the youngest and tallest in the tradition of Japanese eaters increasingly challenging American food supremacy. (The Coney Island title belonged to Japanese eaters in 1997, and the Japanese have owned it since).
A statement read on the IFOCE website: “An old prophecy in the competitive food world, rejected by most, predicts the rise of cannibals, a Gurgitators who will inspire America and propel them to international victory The women will lead again. Like Joan of Arc before her, this eater will be slender but powerful. This prophecy has been mentioned more and more frequently in recent months, as the eaters are almost in the Sonia Thomas has been great in every game he play