Meet Finland’s Weirdest Sport – The Wife Carrying World Championships

Every year in the Finnish town of Sonkajärvi, one of the world’s weirdest sporting competitions take place – the Wife Carrying World Championships (known locally as eukonkanto). It’s exactly what it sounds like, with male competitors carrying their wives across an outdoor obstacle course of sand and water. With an amazing grand prize for the winner, this 2 day festival in early July is an event not to be missed!

While it may seem like a weird novelty sport, and many competitors compete just for fun, there are those that take wife carrying very seriously. There are techniques, strategies, and there are legends of the sport, with wife carrying even branching out to contests in the USA, UK, Australia, Hong Kong, India and Germany!

Drawing of competitive wife carrying in Finland
Wife Carrying competitors

The Story Of Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen The Wife Stealer

The sport had its first official championship in 1992, but the inspiration for the sport date back to folk tales in the 19th century. A robber named Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen was known for wife carrying. He lived in the forest with a gang of fellow thieves, and were known for pillaging food, and stealing local women by hauling them away on their backs.

Other variations of the story exist too. One version goes that Finnish men would go out to steal women from neighbouring villages, with the intent to marry them. The third theory is that Rosvo-Ronkainen’s men would train themselves to be stronger by hauling heavy sacks over their backs.

Rules Of The Wife Carrying World Championship

The first Wife Carrying World Championships featured a rough terrain for contestants to cross, with tough obstacles such as rocks, fences and a body of water 1 metre deep. Today, it has become a little safer for contestants, replacing the rocks with sand. The obstacle course is traditionally 253.5 metres long, and fast competitors can finish the run in just over a minute.

The wife to be carried can either be the competitor’s own wife, or if they aren’t married, any other woman over the age of 17. They need to weigh at least 49kg, and those who weigh under that are given extra weights to carry. The carried is allowed to wear a helmet, and the carrier can wear a belt.

There are 3 main methods of wife carrying that the athletes can use in the Championship. The first is the piggyback method, a standard method of carrying. The next is the fireman carry, which involves hauling the teammate over the carrier’s shoulder. Lastly, the carrying method most used for serious competitors is the Estonian method, which has the woman hanging upside down along the man’s back, legs wrapped around his neck and grappling around the waist. This method allows the carrier to compete hands free.

The Grand Prize For The Wife Carrying World Championship

The 2019 contest featured 80 competitors eager to battle for the grand prize. Recent champions Vytautas Kirkliauskas and his wife Neringa Kirkliauskiene, completed the course in an amazing 1 minute, 6 seconds. And what is the grand prize?

It’s a good one! The winners receive the wife’s weight in beer! Competitors also win a bag of official merchandise and an official winner’s statue. There are also prizes for second and third place, best costumes, strongest carrier and most entertaining. All other participants receive the merchandise bag, which has a T-shirt, wrist bands, and race numbers.

Entertainment And Side Shows

Besides the main event, there are plenty of activites to keep spectators entertained. Karaoke stages are set up, and there is a parade to introduce the competitors and lead them to the starting positions.

There is also a side race, the Team Wife Carrying Relay. This race has teams consisting of three men that need to carry one wife, transferring her along the course like a baton relay! At the end of the festivities, the event becomes a big party.

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Finland has a variety of strange sports that take place, such as cell phone throwing, reindeer racing and air guitar championships. But the Wife Carrying World Championships may be the most unusual. With a two day event, a novelty beer prize, silly costumes and a light-hearted mentality, wife carrying looks like a great way to enjoy the summer months in Finland!