Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Past rows of stands selling various incarna
tions of corn - popped, frittered, wrapping hot dogs and on the cob - 10 competitive eaters waged an epic battle at the South Florida Fairgrounds Sunday.
Switching from the typewriter method to the tooth scraper and back to the typewriter, 100-pound Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas put away 321/2 ears in 12 minutes, out-eating nine men to become the first female National Sweet Corn-Eating champion.
Thomas, whose nickname is tied to her knack for beating large male competitors, in a string of competitive eating victories, took her place among the 10 contestants. She was half the size of the past two years' winners:
Thomas, wearing a pink ball cap and pale purple eye shadow, kept her eyes down as she meticulously unscrewed bottled water caps.
With an emphatic countdown by Major League Eating Chairman George Shea, the long table became a line of corn-devouring strategies: The toilet roll. The bobbing head. The low lean.
A gaggle of T-shirt wearing fans of Jacksonville's Hall "Hoover" Hunt screamed and held posters until a woman from the crowd shouted angrily, "Hey, we can't see with that sign up!"
Three minutes in. Fast-talking, straw hat-wearing Shea turned to Jessica Wittenbrink, Miss South Florida Fair, as she surveyed the flying kernels, yellow-spattered clothes and kernel-encrusted cheeks. Motioning to LaRue's high-speed scrape, he said, "Jessica, would you date Joe LaRue?"
Catching the uncomfortable smile beneath her sparkling crown, he turned back to the crowd. "That's a 'No.''"
As time wound down, the lesser-known eaters began chewing slowly, painfully, before Shea voiced the moment of truth for the hard-core competitors: "Put down your corn."
Wiping their faces, they stared breathlessly at the crowd, leaning over the cob-filled crates and glancing into their neighbors'.
Conti offered orange Tic-Tacs to his rivals before learning he finished third at 30 ears. His 343/4 ears from last year holds the record.
LaRue edged into second with 31 ears. Thomas took home the $1,500 prize and a 3-foot gold trophy with an angel on top. She runs a Burger King back in Virginia and says this was her first corn eating competition.
She likes vegetables, but oysters are still her favorite, she said. She once ate 46 dozen in 10 minutes.
Conti said he harvested a bushel of corn for practice before traveling to South Florida.
"Hoover" said his brother-in-law works as a produce manager and hooked him up.
Thomas, who grew up in South Korea, ate four or five ears just to get the feel for it but said she otherwise came unrehearsed.
She said she eats more than most people but never more than one meal a day and never snacks - to maintain her figure.
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