Wife Carrying: The Exotic Sport That Is Taking The World By Storm

John Parrish, Contributing Writer

(Participants compete in a wife-carrying championship in Tapiobicske, Hungary.)

(Credits: REUTERS/ Marton Monus)

August 7th, on a mild, sunny day in a field just outside the village of Tapiobicske, Hungary, a clash of titans occurred. Forty of Hungary’s strongest and bravest couples came to compete for the national championship. 

The couples competed in an obstacle course, 253.5 meters long, with a surface of soft sand, 40-inch hurdles made from logs, and a stretch of meter deep water. A test of aerobics, strength, teamwork, and, most of all, trust. Because this isn’t just any sport, this is wife-carrying. The male partner completes the entire course carrying his wife on his back. 

While being quite new in Hungary, this year’s competition being only the second in the nation’s history (the first being last October), wife-carrying has a long and storied history around the world. Invented in Finland, where it is called eukonkanto, the sport, while having roots dating to the Viking age, is considered to have been “invented” by a bandit leader named Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen (literally Ronkainen the robber) in the late 1800s. Herkoo Rosco-Ronkainen reportedly forced his gang to run an obstacle course with heavy sacks of grain or pigs on their backs in order to train them for the gang’s principal money-making scheme of kidnapping villagers for ransom. Despite this dark origin, the sport is nowadays seen as a  fun way for young couples to test their physical endurance and teamwork.  

The first competitive wife-carrying event took place in  1992,  in  Sonkajärvi,  a  rural area in the  North  Savo province of central  Finland, where world championships are still held yearly.  While the competitors in  Hungary received medals and trophies only,  the traditional reward and the one still given out at the world championship is the wife’s weight in  Finnish beer. This is what motivates some couples to  bulk up  far  beyond  the   minimum  weight  of  49  kilograms  (108  pounds)  (if  one  is  below  the  minimum  weight,   they  will  be  fitted  with  weights  to  make  up  the  difference).  In  some  cases,  men  may   seek  out  heavier  women  to  compete  with  them,  as despite  the  name,  the  person  you  are  carrying  does  not  have  to  be  your  wife or  even  married  to you at  all.     

Training  for  a  wife-carrying  event  can  often  be  an  arduous  task,  with  male   champions  engaging cardio  and  strength training everyday,  while  female  champions  focus   on  grip  strength  (a  team  is  penalized for five  seconds  whenever  the  wife  falls  or  is   dropped)  and  (provided  they  aren’t  aiming  for  a  big  beer  payout)  weight  loss.  There  is   no  required  method  of  carrying  the  “wife,”  although  piggyback,  fireman’s  carry,  and  especially  the  Estonian  method  (where  the  woman  is  draped  over  the  man’s  back  with   her  legs  around  his  neck  and  her  arms  around  his  waist)  are  the  most  popular.   

Despite  its  origins  in  the  dark  forested  marshland  of  central  Finland,  wife  carrying  has  spread  throughout  the  entire  world.  These exotic competitions have  occurred  yearly  since  2008   in  the  UK  (although  the  U.K.  championship  website  recognizes  the  true  origin of the sport on the  isles  at  being  793,  with  the  beginning  of  the  viking  age),  in   Australia  since  2005,  and  it  has  even  taken  hold  in  southern  India,  where  competitions   are  held  in  Kerala  under  the  name  Bharya  sametham  (roughly  meaning  “with  your  wife”  in  Malayalam,  the  local  language).   

For  those  of  you  for  whom  this  strange  sport  sounds  like  a  good  deal  of  fun and   for  those  of  you  who  can  actually  find  someone  willing  to  either  carry  you  or  be  carried  by  you  up  and  down  a  mountain  through  muddy  water  and  sand,  there’s  still  time  to   register  for  the  22nd  annual  North  American  Wife  Carrying  Championship,  taking  place October  9th  at  Sunday  River  Resort  in  Newry  Maine.