Wife carrying is a sport in which male competitors race while each carrying a female teammate, the objective of the competition is to make it through a special obstacle track in the fastest time. It is, essentially, a piggy-back race, where the prize depends on the wife’s weight in beer.
First introduced in Sonkajarvi, Finland, the sport has developed and is competed in on a global level. Now, I’m not the only person whose been curious about the origins of this magnificent sport; there are many tales in Finland about a man name Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen. In the late 1800s, he was considered a robber, lived in a forest, and ran around with a gang of thieves causing harm to the villages. He essentially seems to be Robin Hood’s alter ego, his dark side, his evil twin. There are three ideas as to why and how (why??) this sport was invented.
The first theory is as follows: Rosvo-Ronkainen (try saying that five times faster) and his thieves were accused of stealing food and women from villages in the area he lived in. They carried these women on their backs and ran away- hence, ‘wife’ or women carrying.
The second theory states that young men would go to villages near their own, steal other men’s wives, and then have the women become their wives. These wives were also carried on the backs of the men, referred to as ‘the practice of wife stealing’.
Lastly, there was an idea that Rosvo-Ronkainen trained his thieves to be ‘faster and stronger’ by carrying big, heavy sacks on their backs, which could have eventually evolved to a sport because of the endurance and muscle strengthening required.
I want to believe the sack idea is not how the sport originated, because I don’t know how I feel about people naturally assuming women would be a good substitute to heavy sacks.
While this sport is considered a joke by some (by many), the competitors take it very seriously, just like any other sport. Wife carrying is now practiced in Australia, the US, Hong Kong, Estonia and other parts of the world other than Finland. Further, the sport has World Championships, and even has a category in the Guinness Book of Records.
The original course for the competition was a rough, rocky terrain with fences, and brooks, but it has been altered to suit modern conditions. There is now sand instead of full rocks, fences, and some kind of area filled with water (a massive pool, essentially). This, in itself, sounds exhausting. How on earth do people conduct the course with a person clinging to them?
The sport does have rules, believe it or not, set out by the International Wife Carrying Competition Rules Committee (quite a mouthful, eh?). The rules of the competition are as follows (as written on the official website):
1. The length of the official track is 253.5 meters (good lord!)
2. The track has two dry obstacles and a water obstacle approximately one metre deep
3. The wife to be carried may be your own, or the neighbour’s, or you may have found her further afield (with your own wife’s permission, I’m sure); she must, however, be over 17 years of age.
4. The minimum weight of the wife to be carried is 49 kilograms. If she weighs less, she will be burdened with a rucksack containing additional weight to bring the total load to be carried up (why not just find a larger girl? That seems to be allowed).
5. All participants must enjoy themselves (This is a rule? Seriously?)
6. If a contestant drops the wife, he has to lift her on to his back or in his arms
and continue carrying.
7. The only equipment allowed is a belt worn by the carrier and a helmet worn by the carried.
8. The contestants run the race two at a time, so each heat is a contest in itself.
9. Each contestant takes care of his/her safety and, if deemed necessary, insurance.
10. The contestants have to pay attention to the instructions given by the organizers of the competition.
11. There is only one category in the World Championships and the winner is the couple who completes the course in the shortest time.
12. Also the most entertaining couple, the best costume, and the strongest carrier will be awarded a special prize.
13. The participation fee 50 € per a couple.
Additionally, several types of carrying may be practiced: piggy-back, fireman’s carry, or Estonian-style, where the woman hands upside down (on his back) with her legs around the husbands shoulders, holding onto his waist (essentially an upside down piggy-back). Estonian-style seems to be the proffered method.
Since 1992, the World Championships have been held annually in Sonkajarvi, Finland, with Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen of Finland claiming the Champions title since 2008.
The 20th Wife Carrying World Championships are to occur at Sonkajarvi on from the 3rd to the 4th July 2015. Applications shall be accepted onwards from January 2015.
Boys, you better find a woman and start practicing!
For further information:
Eukonkanto konttuuri (The Wife Carrying Headquarters )
tel. +358 (0)40 148 4323 Leena- Kaisa Karilahti
For International interviews:
tel. +358 (0)440 250987