On Saturday, seasoned competitive eater Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas won the 2007 National Buffalo Wing Festival by eating 5.17 pounds of wing meat in 12 minutes. Organisers say that's about equivalent to 173 wings! Local poultry have taken industrial action and are refusing to lay any more eggs until she is out of Buffalo...
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By John F. Bonfatti
From the professional to the earnest amateur, thousands of chicken wing eaters of all shapes, sizes and colors stood red-faced in the sun as the sixth annual national Buffalo Wing Festival opened Saturday in Dunn Tire Park. And as it turned out, one of the smallest of them all walked away as the national chicken wing eating champion.
Sonya Thomas, a 5-foot-5, 105-pound store manager from Alexandria, Va., triumphed over an otherwise all-male field that included several 300- pound-plus competitors, setting a world record by consuming 5.17 pounds of wing meat in 12 minutes. Organizers said that was the equivalent of about 173 wings. The cholesterol count was not available. The contest wasn’t without a little controversy.
Sonya Thomas celebrates after winning the 2007 National Buffalo Wing Festival eating contest held in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007. Thomas won the event by eating 5.17 pounds of chicken wings in 12 minutes. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Sonya Thomas' fingers search for another chicken wing during the 2007 National Buffalo Wing Festival eating contest held in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007. Thomas won the event by eating 5.17 pounds of chicken wings in 12 minutes. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Sonya Thomas wipes her face after devouring 5.17 pounds of chicken wings in 12 minutes during the 2007 National Buffalo Wing Festival eating contest held in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007. Thomas won the event. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Sonya Thomas, center, swallows another chicken wing during the National Buffalo Wing Festival eating contest held in Buffalo, N.Y. on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2007. Thomas won the event by eating 5.17 pounds of chicken wings in 12 minutes. Joe LaRue is on the left and Chip 'Burger' Simpson is on the right. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Last year’s winner, Chip “Dr. ChipBurger” Simpson, came in second, but as he came up to collect his plaque, he whispered to master of ceremonies Ryan Nerz that he wanted a recount.
Simpson’s pile of bones, which originally showed that he had eaten 4.33 pounds of wing meat, went back on the scale. It did better this time, indicating 4.77 pounds had been eaten, but it still came up short.
Thomas, whose eating prowess has earned her the nickname “The Black Widow,” had a surprisingly simple answer when asked what the key is to stripping the meat off the better part of four four-pound aluminum trays of wings.
“Swallowing,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to swallow, but you have to do it.”
It was redemption of sorts for Thomas, who came in second last year behind Simpson. She said last year’s cold, rainy weather was behind what was, for her, a disappointing finish.
“I don’t like the cold weather,” she said. “I can’t use my hands.”
As any Buffalonian knows, hands are an important part of eating chicken wings, although contestants in the “Blue Cheese Bowl” weren’t allowed to use them as they “bobbed” for chicken wings in a giant vat of blue cheese sauce.
For Scott McClintock of Ithaca, who won the event, it was serious business.
“Other than my wedding day, this will be the single biggest day of my life,” he said before plunging his face into the gooey white stuff.
More than a few spectators also took their wing eating seriously.
“I’m the world’s No. 1 chicken wing lover,” said Paul Pietkiewicz, a Cheektowaga native visiting home this weekend with his new bride, Mariah, whom he met while both were at Arizona State University. “Nobody loves them more than me.”
How much does he love wings? Pietkiewicz insisted they be served at his February sitdown wedding dinner alongside prime rib, smoked salmon and Caesar salad.
“My wife was a very good sport about it,” he said.
The festival always draws a good number of out-of-town wing fans, making what some consider a pilgrimage to the birthplace of wings.
“We like chicken wings, and this is a very cool family affair,” said Ed Szewczyk of Coudersport, Pa., attending his fourth festival with his wife, Tammy, and their sons, Austin and Josh.
Brandon and Denise Shaw drove four hours from Highland Mills after Denise’s brother-inlaw, an annual attendee, kept pestering them to go. “The only bad thing is the lines,” she said. “Everything else is great.”
Long lines were a common complaint. Festival organizer Drew Cerza said that he invested in four new, industrial-sized deep fryers this year but that Saturday’s crowd was about 1 1/5 times the usual Saturday turnout.
“We’ve doubled our output capacity, and we’re barely keeping up,” he said.
In addition to Thomas and McClintock, the festival crowned a new Miss Buffalo Wing and a winner in the best traditional sauce contest. Miss Buffalo Wing Lucia Esquilin works at the Anchor Bar, while the sauce boss is Ric Kealoha of Honolulu.