The story goes that once upon a time in Finland, there lived a robber named Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen. He was known back then as Ronkainen the Robber. According to the 19th-century legends, Ronkainen and his pack of thieves used to raid the villages of Finland, stealing food and women. These thieves used to snatch women and carry them on their backs as they ran away — the end.
Well, not exactly the end as we know it to be today as the origin of a very peculiar sport, the sport of wife-carrying. At that time, what Ronkainen did was called ‘wife stealing, as those women were the wives of other people, which later evolved to be called wife-carrying. Wife-carrying is a Finnish sport active in “The Land of Thousand Lakes” from the 19th century. It is known in Finland as Eukonkanto.
There are also stories that wife-carrying had its origins from the way Ronkainen used to train his gang of thieves by having them carry large sacks on their backs, and it is this exercise that eventually led to the formation of the sport. But whatever the true story of the origin may be, we know for sure that it stemmed from this notorious robber who lived in Finland. The first wife-carrying sport was conducted in 1992 in Finland, but this sport has since then spread to various other countries such as India, Germany, Australia, United States, UK, Hong Kong, Sweden, Estonia and Latvia.
I’m sure you were surprised to see India on the list. However, we have seen the wife-carrying sport in action in the Hindi movie Dum Laga Ke Haisha, starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar. There are wife-carrying races organized in Kerala, known as ‘Bhaaryaasametham’, which translates as ‘with your wife’ in Malayalam.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “that can’t be a real sport”, the Guinness Book of Records begs to differ. The sport includes contests in which the male competitors have to do exactly what the name of the sport suggests – carry their wives while racing and overcoming obstacles in their path. And like in any other sport, the couple to run and overtake the others in the fastest time is awarded as the winning couple.
Don’t even think that it is easier for the wife who has to do nothing but get carried, for there are certain accepted ways in which the wife can be carried. The options are Classic Piggyback, Fireman’s Carry in which the wife is carried over the shoulders, or the Estonian Style in which the wife is carried upside down with her legs over the husband’s neck and shoulders. The obstacles in a wife-carrying race are namely log hurdles, hills, mud pits and water. And in the case of an obstacle with water, the wife goes headfirst into the pool. That can’t be pretty at all.
There are Wife Carrying World Championships held every year in Finland and North America for couples to participate. These Wife Carrying Championships do not require the participants to be legally married. And you won’t believe what the winners get for all this madness – the wife’s weight in beer and also cash in that weight. Not so bad, huh?
The length of the racecourse is 277 yards, and the rules insist that the female competitor or rather the ‘wife’ in the carrying should be over seventeen years old and should weigh 108 pounds (49 kilos). And they must, as a rule, wear helmets compulsorily. That and a belt are the only equipment allowed to be carried by the participants. In addition to that, swimming glasses and slippers are also allowed. Another mandatory stipulation under the rules is that the participants must have fun. So if you’re seen not enjoying the sport, you’ll be taken out immediately. No, just kidding.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, for the competitors are not allowed to drop their wives at any cost. And if they do, then they are penalized or disqualified. Two couples run simultaneously through the course, both timed, and the fastest of the two teams qualifies for the finals.
And that’s how a sport of sexist origins is making its way and grabbing attention across the world. All of this, just to remember a notorious criminal, makes this hilarious.