The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Sport Alternative: Wife Carrying

By Madeleine Stroth


On top of every man, there is a great woman.

There are a lot of men out there who would like their wives to get off their backs, but for a select group of athletes, it’s just the opposite.

Every July, couples from around Europe gather in Sonkajärvi, Finland for the Wife Carrying World Championship, where the winners leave the competition not only with the prestige of the title, but also the winning wife’s weight in beer.

Sonkajärvi began hosting the annual championship in 1992, but the practice of wife carrying traces all the way back to the late 1800s when “wife stealing” was commonplace between the men of neighboring towns.

Legend has it that the contest was first adopted by the infamous 19th century Ronkainen the Robber who required that all men joining his band of thieves complete a difficult obstacle course with heavy sacks on their backs in preparation for wife-snatching activities. (so hide yo’ kids, hide yo wife).

Teams of two, made up of a man and a woman, race through a special obstacle track with the male competitor carrying the female competitor on his back.  There are four traditional styles for carrying the wife: the traditional piggyback, thrown over the shoulders, across the back, and the popular “Estonian” hold with the wife hanging upside-down with her legs around her husbands shoulders.

While the track has changed over the years to accommodate for the growing spectator crowd and safety concerns, competitors are tasked with completing the 253.5 meter course including two dry obstacles and a water obstacle.

The Rules:

–       The wife carried may be your own, your neighbor’s, or one found further away.

–       The wife must be at least 17 years of age (21 in the U.S.).

–       The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms (107.8 lbs).

–       The only equipment allowed is a belt worn by the carrier.

–       The carried must wear a helmet.

While Estonia has reigned supreme for the majority of the past decade, Finland’s own Taisto Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen have been the reigning champs for the past two years.

But the sport isn’t limited to crowds overseas.  Major competitions are held each year in Monona, WI; Minocqua, WI; and Marquette, MI.

The North America Wife Carrying Championship takes place every Columbus Day weekend in Newry, ME, where last year first time competitors Rocco Andrerozzi and Kim Wasco walked away with a cash prize equaling 6X Wasco’s weight and six cases of Shocktop beer equal to Wasco’s weight (127 lbs).

With growing numbers and increasing appreciation for this one of a kind sport, it’s only a matter of time before the fun reaches the streets of Iowa City.


What do you think? Should we have more wife carrying in America. Leave us a comment and get in on the conversation.

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