TOP DOG: I knew this sport was for me when I was glued to the television screen watching Nathan's Famous July 4, 2002, hot dog eating contest on Coney Island, and Takeru Kobayashi devoured 50 hot dogs. I thought to myself, I want to eat with this person. I've always had a good appetite, a quick metabolism and, well, I love to compete and win. In June 2003, I entered and won my first competitive eating event -- the Molly Pitcher qualifier in New Jersey. Today I am the No. 1 competitive eater in the United States, and second in the world. My moniker is the "black widow" and, like the female spider, I hope to eliminate the males in the competition.

SUPER SIZE IT: Speed eating is about developing and practicing techniques like hand speed and hand-eye coordination, as well as chewing and swallowing fast. You really need lots of water to ensure food doesn't get stuck in the throat, which is why if you practice, you shouldn't do it alone. I don't speed-eat large quantities of food every day. That wouldn't be healthy. When I'm not in a competition, I eat well. And I won't eat things like cow brains, frog legs, reindeer sausage or other "exotic" foods -- I've never had to eat anything that I truly dislike.

EXTREME EATING: There was an eating contest that involved cheesecake. It tasted so smooth going down, and there was coffee to help moisten the mouth. I won by eating 11 pounds of the rich cake in 9 minutes, but very soon after I felt sick to my stomach. To this day, the thought of coffee and cheesecake still has the same effect on me.

BRING IT ON: To qualify for a seat at Nathan's on Coney Island on July 4, you must win a regional qualifying contest. Only 3 to 5 years ago, a person could qualify by eating 16 to 18 dogs and buns. Now, in most cases, eaters are having to "do the deuce" (eat 20 or more) just to win a preliminary round. And depending on the competition that day, that amount might not even do it. My goal is to break the American record of 32 dogs and buns that I set last year.

EAT MY WORDS: I don't train, but if I'm totally unfamiliar with the kind of food I will be eating, I will sometimes practice my speed for 1 or 2 minutes -- no more. Once I set a pace, I can usually keep it up for however long the contest is; the stomach capacity is always there. Eating at the professional level is not for everyone. At the pro events there is a controlled environment with emergency medical technicians on hand. Safety is paramount. If you really believe you have what it takes, you can go to the International Federation of Competitive Eating Web site ( and go to the "Join as an Eater" section. Participating in one or two contests may be the best way to safely size up your abilities.

As told to Karen Hart

The International Hot Dog Eating Contest, sponsored by Nathan's Famous, will be shown live from Coney Island, Brooklyn, on Monday at noon on ESPN.

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Nathan's may be famous for hot dogs, but Alexandria's Sonya Thomas is renowned for eating 32 of them in 12 minutes -- a U.S. record.