by Sara Bartsch (Contributer)
Wife-carrying is a sport in which male competitors race while carrying a female teammate. To make it even more challenging, the race track includes obstacles including pools of water, fences, and rough terrain. The sport originated in Sonkajärvi, Finland as a joke about the local courting tradition of going to a village, picking up a woman, and carrying her off.
The use of obstacles supposedly originated because of Rosvo-Ronkainen, a famous Finnish brigand of the 1800s who only accepted troops who successfully completed a challenge course, thereby proving themselves. His men were as famous for absconding with women as they were for stealing food and ale.
The Wife-Carrying World Championships are held every July in Sonkajärvi and attract competitors from around the world, including winners of the North American Championship. There are also major annual wife-carrying competitions in Monona, Wisconsin; Minocqua, Wisconsin; and Marquette, Michigan.
The modern sport of wife-carrying, while predominantly done for the sake of humour, has evolved strict rules on everything from the length of the track to the minimum weight for a wife. The track is officially 253.5 meters long and includes one water obstacle and two dry obstacles. A competitor may carry his own wife or borrow one from a friend, but she must be at least seventeen and weigh over 49 kg (108 lbs). If she happens to weigh less, the man must carry additional weighted bags to even the playing field, so that the minimum weight carried is always 49 kg.
Despite these rules, wife-carrying is still meant to be a humourous and enjoyable event; the rules clearly state that competitors are required to have fun. There are slight variations of the style in which the wife is carried according to region and country, but it is most common for the wife to be carried Estonian-style: upside down with her legs around the man’s shoulders and hanging on to his waist.
While the man does all the running in wife-carrying, the female teammate is far from a passive piece of baggage. She has to have a monumentally strong grip to hang on while her husband dashes at top speed over pavement and fences. She also has to contend with repeated head dunkings, as the water obstacle is usually over a meter deep. Because she is dangling upside down with her face buried in a man’s backside while he navigates challenging obstacles, the female teammate is understandably required to wear a helmet.
Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen of Finland have been the World Champions of Wife-Carrying for the past two years running. At 45 years old, Taisto is also the oldest man to win the Wife Carrying World Championship. The main prize always goes to the couple who completes the track in the least amount of time; however prizes are also given for the most entertaining couple, the couple with the best costumes and for the strongest carrier. The prize, naturally, is the wife’s weight in beer.