For the fifth straight year, Takeru Kobayashi (search), 27, captured the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest Monday, gobbling a nauseating 49 dogs in 12 minutes — but missing his own world record of 53 1/2, set at last year's July Fourth competition.

The win means the coveted Mustard Yellow Belt (search) will return to Japan for the ninth year out of the past 10. New Jersey's Steve Keiner (search), who won in 1999, is the only American to capture the title in the past decade.

Kobayashi, of Nagano, stands 5 feet 7 inches and weighs just 144 pounds.

The runner-up was Sonya Thomas of Alexandria, Va. — known as The Black Widow on the competitive-eating circuit — who set an American record by downing 37 hot dogs in the same 12 minutes.

Thomas, who manages a Burger King restaurant, separates the hot dog from the bun and eats them separately. She dips the bun in water to make it easier to swallow with less chewing.

"I want to be No. 1 in the world, so I practice," she said in a televised interview shortly after the contest. "I'm working on more speed."

She said she was planning a light dinner — maybe a salad.

"My stomach doesn't hurt," she said, "but my jaw is tired."

Thomas, who weighs a remarkable 105 pounds, is a rising speed-eating star. Last December in Atlantic City, N.J., she finished off 89 meatballs — about six pounds' worth — in 12 minutes. And in August, she captured a lobster-eating contest in Maine by consuming 38 of the creatures in 12 minutes.

The hot dog contest takes place outside the original Nathan's in Coney Island. The contest was first held there in 1916.