-- America's top speed-eating champ wolfed down 38 lobsters in 12 minutes Saturday to win the World Lobster-Eating Contest.

Alexandria resident Sonya Thomas consumed 9.76 pounds of lobster meat, outeating runner-up Jason "Crazy Legs" Conti at 7.65 pounds and "Hungry Charles" Hardy of New York at 7.03 pounds.

"I have a natural ability because of my stomach capacity," said Thomas, who weighs in at a mere 105 pounds. "I could eat more, but something else -- not a lobster."

Ed "Cookie" Jarvis of Long Island, N.Y., was fourth, just ahead of defending champ Kevin "The Boss" Cross, the local favorite from Kennebunk.

Eleven competitors did away with 300 pounds of lobsters.

"There's nothing in the world like Maine lobster," said organizer John Hathaway of Kennebunkport. "It's a great fun food. There are so many good ways to eat it."

Saturday's competition shattered the notion of lobster as a delicacy to be savored, not devoured with reckless abandon.

After all, it's a far cry from corned beef and cabbage (Jarvis holds the world record) or hard-boiled eggs (Thomas holds that record).

The event promised to elevate Maine into the big leagues of competitive eating, alongside Coney Island with its Nathan's Famous hot dogs and New Orleans with its oysters.

At the Pilot House Grill & Boatyard, each speed-eater had a partner cracking the shells and pulling out the meat, which competitors stuffed into their mouths and gulped down.

Thomas's victory earned her $500 and a trophy belt called the "claw" -- Maine's version of the mustard yellow belt that goes to the Nathan's champ.

(In July, Thomas broke a couple of records at the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating competition in New York. Thomas, nicknamed "The Black Widow," finished off 32 hot dogs, more than any other American, as well as any woman, in the contest's history. Top prize went to Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan, who wolfed down 531/2 in 12 minutes, besting his own record by three hot dogs.)

The lobster event was held for the first time last year at the restaurant. But this year marked the first time it was sanctioned by International Federation of Competitive Eating, which regulates gastronomic contests.

Competitors ate as many lobsters as they could before the end of the 12-minute period.

Cross won the inaugural event by devouring a lobster every two minutes for a total of 16 lobsters in eight minutes last year.

Thomas was coming off a baked bean victory days before in Indiana, where she ate 8.4 pounds (just under one gallon) of beans with pork in 2 minutes 47 seconds.

Jarvis, who weighs nearly four times more than Thomas, finished second in that contest. He also holds records for ice cream, pasta and pork ribs.

Sonya Thomas of the Alexandria area ate 9.76 pounds of lobster to win a contest in Maine.