Run for your wife! (Or somebody else’s…)

Festival Essentials

Where: Sonkajärvi, Finland
When: July
What’s it about: carrying a wife (or female partner) down a bumpy track in exchange for her weight in beer in celebration of an historic bandit
Remember to bring: bandages – for either your wife if you drop her – or you if you drop her!

If you’re a sports fan looking for something a bit different, a marathon runner searching for a new challenge, or even a woman looking for free transportation over 279 slightly bumpy yards, look no further than the Wife Carrying Championships held in the village of Sonkajärvi. Held in the village itself, around 250 miles from Helsinki, this is the twelfth consecutive time the Championships have taken place. And the crowds turning up to cheer on contestants and their brave other halves are getting bigger each year – around 12,000 people made the trip this year alone.

History of the Wife Carrying Championships

The first wife-carrying championship held in this century happened in 1992, as an idea to liven up a village fair. Since then, there’s been strong competition amongst other Finnish villages to stage the weirdest competition in order to get some of the limelight. Other events staged in Finland this year included world championships in sauna sitting, mosquito swatting, mobile phone throwing, air guitar, boot throwing and swamp soccer. But none of these have proved as popular – or as world-famous – as the Wife Carrying Championships. Contestants come from neighbouring countries like Estonia, but also America and even South Korea. The crowds of spectators are just as international as those taking part in the frantic race.

If you believe the Sonkajärvi locals, there used to be good reason to develop some wife-carrying skills. Back in the nineteenth century, a dodgy bandit known as Ronkainen started a trend of raiding outlying Finnish villages by night, grabbing wives from men’s beds as they slept and running off with them into the hills. Who knows, maybe he didn’t have much luck chatting up ladies in the usual manner. And why isn’t there a Bandit-Chasing Championship instead?

What Happens at the Wife Carrying Championships

These questions aside, the sport of wife-carrying has come a long way since the early days, and the 21st century version is more to do with entertainment than kidnapping. Although you’re still allowed to carry other people’s wives as part of the contest, it seems they all have to be returned at the end. In fact, it’s not even necessary to be married, as long as “wives” are over 17 years old, and weigh more than the minimum 108 pounds.

In 2003 the course was 279 yards from start to finish, including a water obstacle and two wooden hurdles. Dropping your wife carried a penalty of 15 points, not to mention a telling-off from her, which was probably worse. Back in the 19th century a bandit winning the wife-carrying race got to keep the woman as a prize. Modern-day runners-up have to settle for a choice of random goods such as mobiles or toasters, or sometimes cash, with the overall winner receiving the weight of his wife in beer. Now that’s a race worth running!

Traveller’s Tips

The race takes place in July each year, with most hotels being sold out in advance, so make your bookings early on. You can fly direct to Helsinki with several major airlines, including Finnair. From there, take a connecting flight to Kuopio Airport, which is about 50 miles north of Sonkarjärvi. The last part of the journey can be done by bus.

More Information

Guinness Book of Records
Record of the world’s fastest wife carrier

By Isobel Stewart

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