What does competitive eater Sonya 'The Black Widow' Thomas think of the fact that the cash prize for women at the Nathan's Famous hot dog-eating contest is significantly less than the men's? When we reached out to the lady competitive eater for comment, she told us, "of course I would like to see a larger purse."
But she also said "it would be wrong and greedy of me to expect the same payout for the ladies as the men" during the first year of having two divisions, because it costs the sponsors more money. So why don't the men take a cut as well, and even everything up?
For the record, Thomas supports the separate divisions as a way to encourage women to participate, although she does note that "I've finished ahead of at least two-thirds of the best eaters in the world--men included."
Also, winning the contest may be worth more than we originally thought when we scoffed at the sponsor's claim that "the instant celebrity for the first female hot dog-eating champion will make up for the shortfall." According to Thomas, "Unless you win Nathan's July 4th event, no one pays attention to you." Here's what she told us:
At first I had mixed feelings, but overall I believe having two separate gender divisions at the Nathan's finals is an excellent idea. Initially, I felt as if competing in a women's division of the Nathan's finals was an admission of not being able to eat as many Hot Dogs and Buns as men. But, having finished in the top five or six at the finals every year since I started in 2003 means I've finished ahead of at least two-thirds of the best eaters in the world--men included--so that's prettty good.
However, unless you win Nathan's July 4th event, no one pays attention to you. Having a ladies' division will not only enable its winner to get noticed, the guys will certainly remember us, and the female fans will identify with us too. What better way is there to encourage more women to compete? This will result in a more competitive field, with the possibility of our division becoming as or more popular than that of the men.
As far as the size of the prize pool being one-fourth of that of the men's, well, of course I would like to see a larger purse. But this is the first year of separating genders, and it would be wrong and greedy of me to expect the same payout for the ladies as the men. After all, this is costing the sponsors more money, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of going forward with the idea. Once we women rapidly build on our fan base, the purses should grow accordingly.
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Sonya Thomas at Nathan's Famous. [Photo: Sonya Thomas]