Thomas Maine Lobster Champ

Maine lobster-eating champion Kevin Cross faced an extraordinary challenge when Sonya Thomas, Cookie Jarvis, Badlands Booker, Hungry Charles Hardy, Crazy Legs Conti and Allan Goldstein showed up in Kennebunkport, Maine, for the World Lobster-Eating Contest.

Cross, a talented eater who has consumed north of six pounds of lobster in 12 minutes, held the lead early in the event, but Conti, Hardy and Jarvis were eating faster than expected, knocking back Maine lobsters at an incredible pace.

The event took place at the World Lobster-Eating Festival next to the historic Tainttown Bridge overlooking a sailboat-filled harbor. Each eater was teamed with a picker or cracker -- competitive eating's version of a caddie.

As the contest moved into the final minutes, Sonya Thomas picked up the pace, her slender fingers ripping strips of lobster meat in perfect synchronicity with her picker. Meanwhile, Jarvis's picker seemed to become distracted and the Cooker's fingers proved too large to poke lobster meat from the knuckles of the smaller chicken lobsters.

As thunder and lighting crashed overhead, pouring rain onto the white circus tent erected for the event, Hardy and Conti advanced their bid for victory. When the final whistle had blown, and when the lobsters were finally tallied (the weighing process is laborious to say the least), Thomas had placed first, eating 9.76 pounds of lobster meat in 12 minutes. Crazy Legs Conti placed second with 7.03 pounds and Hardy placed third with 6.86 pounds of meat.

Badlands Booker, who captured the hearts of the crowd, rocking the overflowing tent with two raps (perhaps the finest moments of the afternoon), was unable to receive an accurate count on his lobsters. However, Booker was clearly in the running. Allan Goldstein and Kevin Cross also ate extremely well, consuming more than six pounds of lobster, a number that would have won first place last year.

The journey to this scenic corner of the nation required significant commitment by the eaters, who faced stormy weather and east coast traffic at its worst. Sonya Thomas was grounded in Boston by weather and quickly rented a car for the final 100 miles of the trip, arriving 5 minutes before start time. Hardy drove to Maine overnight with Booker and neither had slept for 24 hours when the contest began.