What are wife-carrying contests?

By: Debra Ronca

There's more than one way to carry a wife, as demonstrated by two Chinese participants in the Snowflake Beer Cup Wife Carrying Competition in Shenyang, China. See more pictures of extreme sports.

A ­wife-carrying contest is actually a lot like it sounds. Men, carrying wives, race through an obstacle course that includes sand, water and fences. The prize for winning the race is the wife's weight in beer. It's really all very civilized.

The sport -- yes, it's a sport -- originated in Finland, and was most likely inspired by a duo of historical tales. A 19th century legend has it that men stole wives from neighboring villages. In a second tale, an outlaw named Rosvo-Ronkainen made potential soldiers prove themselves in a race where they carried heavy sacks [source: Finnguide]. Put the two tales together, and what do you get? Wife-carrying races.


Of wacky and ridiculous competitions, Finns are not afraid. Take the Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships, where contestants chuck cell phones as far as they can. Or, the Sauna World Championships, where the winner is the person who sweats it out the longest. The Wife Carrying World Championships are hosted each July in the Finnish town of Sonkajärven. The contest's popularity has inspired similar events in the United States, Australia, Ireland and even China, among others. Some contests -- like the North American Wife Carrying Championships -- award money to winners to pay for travel expenses to compete in the big leagues -- Finland. Even celebrity and former U.S. NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman competed at Sonkajärven -- although he only ran the last 100 meters of the course, claiming he wasn't prepared for such a grueling contest [source:].

You'll find wife-carrying contests all over the globe, but the Finnish competition is the mother race. In 2008, 39 couples competed, and historically, the competition has included Finnish, Japanese, Chinese, Irish, American, Australian, English, Kenyan, Swedish, German, and Estonian competitors [source: Sonkajärvi]. Two Estonians -- Margo Uusorg and Birgit Ulricht -- share the wife-carrying world record of 55.5 seconds.

With any competition come rules and regulations, strategy, athletic prowess. Would wife carrying really be an exception? Of course not.