A Brief History of the Wife Carrying World Championships

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EPA/MARKKU OJALA/LANDOV

It’s probably the most painstaking, heart wrenching, and stress inducing test of dedication a marriage can face. But the reward at the end is pretty sweet.

At the annual Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajärvi, Finland, male competitors race around a track hauling their female partners on their backs. Winner takes home his wife’s weight in beer.

It’s no ordinary racetrack, either. Competitors must wade through a neck-deep pool of water, climb over hurdles, and run through pits of sand before crossing the finish line.

While some participants don crazy costumes for the pre-race, the actual event is pretty straight-laced. Wives must weigh at least 49 kilograms (108 pounds). Any woman lighter than that is required to carry a heavy rucksack until she reaches this minimum. A participant who drops his wife will be penalized 15 seconds. But there is one catch: contestants don’t have to carry their own wives. A friend’s wife, stranger’s wife, or even a random grandmother will do – as long as she’s over 17.

MARKKU OJALA/EPA/Landov

Contestants flock from 47 countries across the globe to show their stuff in this epic display of brute strength. This year, Finnish couple Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen captured the title for the fourth consecutive year. The 46-year-old lawyer and his wife completed the 235-meter course in one minute and four seconds.

Like any dedicated athlete, Miettinen reported that he’d been training for a while. “In last autumn, I started running in the track, one hundred, two hundred and four hundred meters,” Miettinen said in a post-race interview.  He also practiced the course in ski boots to build leg strength.

The competition, which began in 1992, is supposedly rooted in the legend of Ronkainen the Robber — a hardnosed gang leader who hazed potential members by making them lug sacks of grain or live pigs over a similar course. He and his comrades also made a habit of stealing women from neighboring villages (as a nod to this practice, many men “steal” friends’ wives for the competition).

If you want to compete but can't make it to Finland, there’s a North American version of the contest held in October at Sunday River Resort in Maine. With 100-plus pounds of brewski on the line, you might want to tell your significant other to start shaping up.

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July 9, 2012 - 6:48pm
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