Sports and Athleticism

Eukonkanto — the Sport of Wife Carrying

Some say that behind every successful man, you will find a successful woman. Commonplace Fun Facts rejects this sexist notion. In the spirit of equality, we affirm that it is far more likely that you will find the successful woman alongside the successful man. If you look behind the successful man, you will find an utterly surprised mother-in-law.

There is one field of recreation, however, where participants make no excuses about their expectation men should be able to carry their wives toward success. They aren’t spouting archaic notions of sexism, however. The aficionados of eukonkanto speak literally when they talk about the need for wives to be completely supported by their husbands.

Participants in a Wife Carrying competition in Finland

Eukonkanto is a Finnish word that translates as “wife carrying.” That is the official name of the sport that consists of male competitors racing through an obstacle course while carrying a female teammate.

The sport was first introduced in Sonkajärvi, Finland. Its exact origins remain a bit murky, but there are several legends that suggest how such an unusual activity could have started. One such explanation points to Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen (aka Ronkainen the Robber). This thief of the late 19th century led a group of roving criminals who developed a reputation for stealing food and abducting women from the villages. Rosvo-Ronkainen is said to have trained his men by having them carry large, heavy sacks on their backs so they would be better prepared to carry a person. Another possibility points to an old practice where young men would forcibly abduct women — whether married or not — and carry them back home for their own.

At first glance, it may seem odd to glorify a practice that is today universally vilified. Upon closer inspection however, we find that… Well… No, it’s definitely weird. It’s sort of like coming up with a BBQ competition to honor the great cannibals of the past. Of course, the U.S. government did name one of its cafeterias after a notorious cannibal, so we guess that nothing is off limits these days.

Back to wife carrying….

See highlights from the 2013 Wife Carrying World Championship

Despite its murky origins, the participants of wife carrying take their sport quite seriously. It has attracted so much of a following that the sport has spread around the world, with competitions in the United States, Hong Kong, India, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Estonia, and Latvia. The Wife Carrying World Championships have been held annually in Sonkajärvi, Finland, since 1992. The winning prize at this event is wife’s weight in beer.

There are several ways to carry a wife: the classic piggyback, the over-the-shoulder fireman’s marry, and the most-favored Estonian style, in which the wife is upside-down on the husband’s back, with the wife’s legs over his neck and shoulders.

Originally, the race course consisted of rocky terrain, littered with fences and streams. Modern events enhance the obstacle course nature of the race by adding sand and a deep-water pool or similar obstacle.

The International Wife Carrying Competition Rules Committee has developed the following rules to govern the competition:

  • The length of the official track is 253.5 meters (831.69 feet).
  • The track has two dry obstacles and a water obstacle about one meter deep.
  • The wife to be carried may be your own, or the neighbor’s, or you may have found her further afield; she must, however, be over 17 years of age.
  • The minimum weight of the wife to be carried is 49 kilograms (108.03 pounds). If she weighs less than 49 kg, she will be burdened with a rucksack containing additional weight to bring the total load to be carried up to 49 kg.
  • All participants must enjoy themselves.
  • The only equipment allowed is a belt worn by the carrier and a helmet worn by the carried.
  • The contestants run the race two pairs at a time, so each heat is a contest in itself.
  • Each contestant takes care of his/her safety and if deemed necessary, insurance.
  • The contestants have to pay attention to the instructions given by the organizers of the competition.
  • There is only one category in the World Championships, and the winner is the couple who completes the course in the shortest time.
  • Also, the most entertaining couple, the best costume, and the strongest carrier will be awarded a special prize.
  • While the International rules are the basis for all competitions, rules and prizes do vary for each competition.

The Commonplace Fun Facts Legal Department was asked to review the rules and to opine on anything remarkable. After the slime and ectoplasm were wiped off the resultant memo, it pointed out a few matters:

  • While the rules stress the age, weight, origin, and safety of the wife to be carried, there isn’t a lot of detail about the one who does the carrying. The rules are silent, for example, about whether the carrier must be male or even human, for that matter. (NOTE: Once the prospect of non-human participants was raised, several members of the Commonplace Fun Facts Legal Department started recruiting wives to join them in the next event.)
  • The rules clearly state that the person to be carried does not have to be the wife of the carrier, but the assumption is that she must be the wife of someone. In other words, if you compete and come in second place and subsequently discover that the female half of the winning couple is single, engaged, divorced, or widowed, you could have grounds for an official protest.
  • The rule that “all participants must enjoy themselves” appears to be intended to make sure that no one is carried against her will. That does seem to detract from remembering the creepy origins of the sport. It is doubtful that many of the original abductees were particularly thrilled by their circumstances. Aside from that, it also suggests that if there are any sore losers in the race, the whole contest can be invalidated if it can be shown that there was anyone who was not having a good time.
  • In reviewing the photographs and videos of races, we’re having difficulty figuring out how anyone could enjoy themselves while having one’s face squarely planted in the sweaty buttocks of the oaf who is doing the lifting. Then again, there’s no accounting for taste. As repulsive as the experience is, it’s probably preferable to sitting through the movie version of Cats.
  • The rule stating that the only equipment allowed is a belt worn by the carrier and a helmet worn by the carried really should be modified. It raises the specter of a repeat of the time Edgar Allen Poe was a cadet at Annapolis. The posted parade uniform for the day was “gloves and saber belts.” When Poe showed up that day, he was wearing gloves and a saber belt — and nothing else. That was, not coincidentally, his last day as a cadet at Annapolis.

The next World Championships are scheduled for July 2, 2022, in Sokajärvi, Finland. Make plans to attend or get more information at Eukonkonto’s official website.

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