Wife Carrying World Championship in Finland

“Someone’s got to invent it, and it was the Finns”. A sentence that is maybe being said too often, regarding the number of eccentric summer championships that happen in Finland (which I think is one of the best things of the Finnish summer). We talk today about the Wife Carrying World Championship in Finland.

Finland had a group of runners called “The Flying Finns”, that dominated the middle and long distance tournaments in the 1920s (wiki), but not even they came up with this idea: A run that features carrying your wife (Eukonkanto, in Finnish).

Wife Carrying in Finland
Running carrying the wife. Source: All Hands Volunteers Photobank.

The origin of the Wife Carrying Race

The wife carrying run has a history, although a cloudy one since there are three theories. The first one is that there was a thief called Rosvo-Ronkainen who, along with his henchmen, used to enter little villages running, robbing them of food and women (still running, of course). The second theory says that long ago the young rural Finns tended to go to nearby villages and “steal” the women of the locals, marrying them soon afterwards. The last theory talks again of Rosvo-Ronkainen and his henchmen, who used to train running while carrying heavy sacks, a practice that with time evolved into this sport.

Although the Wife Carrying Championship that happens in Finland every year can be seen as a joke, the contenders really take it seriously (as if they were the Flying Finns themselves). The location of this race within Finland is in Sonkajärvi (map), and it has been going on since 1992 (and in 1997 it became a “World Championship”).

Rules of the Wife Carrying World Championship

Some of the most interesting rules are:

  • The official distance to run is 253.5 meters, with parts of gravel, grass and sand.
  • There must be two obstacles and a little water pool 1 meter deep.
  • The female part of the couple can be anyone, but she has to be older than 17 years and must wear a helmet.
  • The woman’s weight must be over 49 kilograms. If she weighs less, she should carry a backpack with weight until both, women and bag, weight at least 49.
  • If the woman falls, she should get in position again on the man’s back or arms.
  • The races feature 2 couples each time, so they can compete between each other as well.
  • There is only one category and the winner is the fastest.
  • The fee for participating is around 50€.
  • There is a second wife carrying race: Three men have to carry one woman in turns, and they must drink “the Wife Carrying official drink”. There are special prices for the funniest team, the best disguises and the strongest man.
  • There is another “sprint” edition: 100 meters, one water pool and 5 to 10 couples, passing 3 each time.

The winning couple of the Wife Carrying World Championship will win the equivalent of the female’s weight in beer.

In this video you can see the Wife Carrying Championship is in all its splendor:

Estonia and Finland are tied on the highest rank of the podium. Estonia used to dominate this race – the reason why the predominant style of wife carrying is the “Estonian Style”: The woman hangs upside down with the legs crossed around the man’s neck, and holding onto his waist – although in the last years the Finns caught up, especially the couple formed by Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen: Taisto is the eldest race winner – 45 years old -, he’s a lawyer, and he has won 10 medals in this competition. A total man.

What do you think, would you ever participate in this Wife Carrying World Championship? This year’s edition, 2014, will happen in Sonkajärvi, on the 4th and 5th of July.

I've been writing about Finland for 8 years. In these articles I am trying to transmit my passion for Finland, its marvelous nature and cities, its people and the culture of the country. Thanks for reading!