Often, events in the Baltics reach new bizarre heights and the event of wife-carrying is no different.
The images evoked when thinking of wife-carrying aren’t usually of a competitive variety, let alone one in which the prize is the wife’s weight in beer. However, Estonia flexes its muscles and dominates this rapidly popularizing sport in a way that only Estonia can.
Wife-carrying (Estonian: naisekandmine) as a general phenomenon has taken place for centuries. Believed to have originated in Finland in the 1800s, stories and legends have been passed down through the generations since. Theories abound regarding the origin, but the most common involve a man named Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen, a thief who lived in the woods and stole from nearby villages. Some say Herkko and his gang would steal women/wives from the village on their backs. Others say that Herkko would train his gang of hoodlums to carry increasingly heavier sacks on their back, which may have evolved into the sport we know today. In modern times, luckily, the woman is generally a willing participant, happy to throw her legs around the neck of her man and hold on for dear life.
The official Wife Carrying World Championship has been held since 1992. The obstacle course itself is 253.5 meters of obstacles, grass, and sand. There is one water obstacle with a depth of one meter, and two dry obstacles, typically log oriented. While it might seem like a good idea to snag a lightweight wife, keep in mind that to qualify she must weigh at least 49 kilograms (108 pounds). Otherwise, she has to wear a backpack or rucksack to reach the desired weight. Although, if the prize is the wife’s weight in beer, a heavier ‘wife’ only yields greater rewards!
The most popular, and deemed by some to be the most successful, carry is the “Estonian” style, in which the woman’s legs are wrapped around the man’s neck as she dangles upside-down over his back. The “fireman’s carry” is also a popular one, in which the ‘wife’ is balanced and carried across both shoulders. Lastly, the tried-and-true “sack-of-potatoes” method involves the wife merely being tossed over one shoulder. The “piggy-back” style is also a good one for beginners, in which the woman’s arms are around the man’s neck and her legs around the man’s waist. Other competitors over the years have gotten inventive with their holds, but most have not been successful.
The festival organizers explain that, as with any good activity between men and women, the right rhythm is important. If the woman is bouncing or rocking at a different pace than the man, it will slow their time.
This sport is taken very seriously, despite the humorous nature of the origin. The Guinness Book of World Records also has a category for Fastest 20m backwards Wife-Carrying, although this record is held by Manav Gohil and Shweta Kawaatra of Mumbai, India. In the World Wife Carrying Championships, the Estonian team of Margo Uusorg and Birgit Ulricht were unstoppable champions from 1998-2008 and broke the world record with a time of 55.5 seconds. However, the Finns have made a comeback and have held the top title since 2009.
If you’ve ever fancied yourself a connoisseur of the obscure, you’ll be happy to learn that anyone can enter. And, no, you don’t have to be married. Speed, strength, and endurance is needed to navigate the grueling obstacle course, so begin training early. Of course, the main goal, besides beating everyone, is also not to drop your ‘wife’. But that’s a good policy regardless. However, the ‘wives’ do wear helmets, so, if you happen to drop her regardless, the greatest injury will be to your time, to which 15 seconds will be added for each ‘wife drop’.
While you must be over 17 to enter, don’t worry if you think you might not be able to compete with the younger folks. There is also a ‘senior’ Wife-Carrying Senior Championship for those over 40.
This year, Estonia will hold its annual Wife-Carrying Competition in Eidapere in Rapla County on 22 June, while Finland will host its Wife-Carrying World Championship from 3-4 July in Sonkajärvi, Finland. However, the Estonians often dominate the Finnish championships, which only encourages the yearly competition to reach new heights. For the last few years, however, Taisto Miettinen, a Finnish athlete has won. Will Madis Uusorg or his champion brother Margo of Estonia rise up this year to beat him? But, given that the grand prize is the wife’s weight in beer, what man wouldn’t be tempted to enter and give it his all?