If you look at most sports in their most basic form, they all appear pretty strange, but year in and year out, they never cease to captivate an audience of millions. So, while something may seem odd or different, maybe it just hasn’t had the time to grow on us like football, basketball, baseball, and other sports have.
Who knows—maybe wife carrying ends up being the next global phenomenon.
Where it all began
There are different theories as to how the sport of wife carrying originated. It is believed to have started in Finland where it is known as Eukonkanto. There are a few theories as to how it came about.
Two of them involve a man by the name of Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen. He was a thief in Finland back in the late 1800s. As the story goes, he and his men would raid villages to steal food and women. In those raids, when they took a woman, they would carry her over a shoulder as they ran off through the forest.
The other theory involving Rosvo-Ronkainen had him training his thieves to carry more goods by having them run through the woods carrying heavy sacks on their backs. As they grew stronger and faster, the competition aspect of it developed.
A third theory is much like the first but in a general sense. Rather than a particular band of thieves, men from Village ‘A’ would run to Village ‘B’ where they would steal someone’s wife, throw her over their shoulder, and then carry her home to be his wife.
Wife carrying events now take place in Finland, the United States, Australia, Hong Kong, Estonia, the UK, and in other countries around the world. The Guinness Book of World Records even has a section for it now.
Modern day Wife Carrying
Wife carrying as a modern-day competitive sport began in Finland in 1992, but wasn’t open to foreigners until 1995. An annual event that is billed as the World Championship is held in Sonkajärvi, Finland.
As its popularity grew, other countries began to hold their own competitions. A North American Championship has taken place every October since 1999. The winners from competitions in 13 states and two Canadian provinces travel to the Sunday River Resort in Maine for the right to win the ‘wife’s’ weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.
The winner of the North American Championship may compete at the World Championship in Finland. The highest a North American champion has finished is fifth.
The latest edition of the World Championship was held from June 30 through July 1. The Finnish team of Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen won with a time of 68 seconds. It is their sixth world title. They won five in a row from 2009 to 2013.
An integral part of every team’s run is figuring out what method of carrying works best for them. It needs to be one that does not restrict the runner’s ability to move (if possible). The less the runner has to do to keep his wife off the ground, the better.
To do so, there are three primary methods used by competitors.
- Piggyback— the wife, will climb on the runner’s back and hold on with her feet wrapped around him and arms around his shoulders. While it is an excellent way to displace the weight of the wife over the runner’s back, it can hinder the runner’s ability to move quickly.
- Fireman’s Carry—this over the shoulder carry style does not restrict the runner’s movement in any way. But it does put all the weight on one side of the body which can increase the difficulty level quite a bit.
- Estonian Carry—this is the most popular style. The wife will hang upside down with her arms wrapped around the runner’s waist and her legs extended across his shoulders. Her weight is displaced across his back and interferes very little (if at all) with his ability to run.
The rules according to the International Wife Carrying Competition Rules Committee are as follows.
- Official tracks are 253.5 meters long.
- Tracks will contain a water obstacle approximately one meter deep and two dry ones.
- The ‘wife’ does not have to be the runner’s actual wife, but must be at least 17 years old.
- The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms (108 pounds). If she does not weigh that much, she will have to carry enough weight so that the runner is carrying at least 49 kilograms.
- Fun is mandatory.
- Races are run in heats between two teams with the fastest team winning.
- Costumes are encouraged; the most entertaining couple is also awarded a prize.
- The only equipment needed is a belt for the runner and a helmet for the wife.
These rules are the basis for all competitions, but rules can vary from one competition to the next. There are some slight variations to the North American rules.
- Helmets are not required, and a belt for the runner is considered optional.
- There is no minimum weight for the wife.
- Teams are penalized five seconds if the wife is dropped. Advancing on the course without the wife being carried will result in disqualification.