Just seven stone, but 46 pies make her champion

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She is the fastest rising star in the world of competitive gurgitation, having electrified fans with startling feats such as eating 8lb of Vienna sausage, 65 hard-boiled eggs and 44 Maine lobsters in a combined time of less than 30 minutes. And yesterday Sonya Thomas, a 36-year-old Korean American who weighs just seven stone, saw off allcomers to win Britain's first speed-eating contest.

Cheered on by 100 spectators, she won the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) competition held at the Big Top restaurant at Wookey Hole Caves in Wells, Somerset, noshing her way through 46 mince pies in 10 minutes.

Yet the women being hailed as the saviour of American speed eating against the continued domination of the world's number one, Japan's legendary Takeru Kobayashi, insisted she was unhappy with her performance which earned her a 28th title and £1,000 prize. "I could have eaten more. I'm really, really disappointed in myself," she said. "This kind of food is hard to eat because it is so dry. The key is to keep drinking water - I could definitely have eaten more but I ran out of time."

She said she had hoped to consume 80 pies. "I always have a goal and once you succeed in these aspirations it makes you happy. This is the reason why I do this professionally," she said.

British hopes of dining at the top table of international speed eating were dashed when the field of 12 men and four women failed to come anywhere near Ms Thomas, who is known on the circuit as the "Black Widow".

Shane Bridle, 38, from Cheddar, who came second, managed just 15 pies. The oldest contestant was retired dinner lady Matilda Andrew, 75, who came eighth after eating seven pies. Organisers said she was the oldest person ever to have taken part in international speed eating.

Ms Thomas, who earns $50,000 (£26,000) a year in eating competitions, attributes her success to a "chipmunk technique" She said she never feels sick while competing and never puts on weight. "The chipmunk is when you shovel the food into your cheeks and continue to chew, then wash it down with water," she explained. "I'm always hungry and I don't know where it goes."

Ryan Nerz, managing director of IFOCE, which is based in New York, said he hoped Britain as a nation of "good eaters" would now host more eating events, which he said was the fastest growing sport in the US.

Newcomers will have to eat their way through a mountain of food to compete with 12-stone Takeru Kobayashi, 27, who has dominated competitions, famously consuming 57 cow brains in 15 minutes and 20lb of rice balls in half an hour.

The IFOCE warns people to consign their competitive eating to competitions and not to train at home.