There used to be two ways to carry your wife at the World Wife Carrying Championship in Sonkajarvi, 6 hours north of Helsinki in Finland. One was the plain, old piggy back with the betrothed jiggling on her husband’s back like a distressed koala bear as he ran the 253m (830-ft.) obstacle course through mud, gravel, and sand. The other was the fireman’s hold where the lucky lady was thrown over the shoulders like a sack of potatoes and transferred with muscled intent across the athletic pitch and through a pool of water to the finish line.
Then the unthinkable happened. Some foreigners came and beat the Finns at their own game. Estonians from the south introduced their own method that inevitably became known as the “Estonian hold.” It involves the man bending before the standing woman and thrusting his head between her legs, then lifting her up until her head hangs upside down behind, facing his rear end and her arms wrap around his abdomen to strap her legs at the front allowing the male easy freedom of movement and sight. As for the lady’s view? Let’s just say it is not the Northern Lights this Nordic country is famous for.
The “Estonian hold” took the sport by storm and soon these upstarts from the south were breaking all records and taking all the loot home—the main prize being the lady’s weight in beer and a plasma TV. A bitter rivalry broke out between both countries that continues to this day, lightened somewhat by other international competitors who approach the sport with a little more tongue in cheek, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Wife Carrying comes from the sweet, old Finnish way of courting a girl by walking straight up to her and carrying her away to your village. Somebody then had the bright idea of introducing an assault course, timing it and hey, presto! The wife carrying contest was invented. The first official championship took place in 1994 in this small town of 5,000 people in the center of Finland. Now the annual event is world famous and attracts hundreds of competitors who need only 50 ($74) and a willing wife to enter. Thousands come to watch, most of them, I suspect, ambulance-chasing divorce lawyers.
The female rider can in fact be any female over 17 and not necessarily the wife of the male carrier. She does have to weigh more than 49kg (108 lb.) and must at all times wear a helmet. The race takes place in pairs of two, giving each heat a competitive streak. There is a penalty fine of 15 seconds for dropping the wife. The course involves two hurdles and a 1m-deep (31⁄4-ft.) water trough that has a fireman dressed as a scuba diver on constant standby in case of any marital distress. There are separate prizes for the most entertaining couple and the best dressed duo. The world record to complete the course is an amazing 56 seconds, won by, you guessed it, those pesky Estonians. —CO’M
When to Go: First week of July.
$$$ Sokos Hotel Puijonsarvi, Minna Canthin katu 16, 70100 Kuopio ( 358/17/1922-000; www.sokoshotels.fi). $$ Scandic Kuopio, Satamakatu 1, 70100 Kuopio ( 358/1719-5111; www.scandichotels.com).