Lithuanian couple win ‘Wife Carrying’ World Championship for second time

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A Lithuanian couple became world ‘wife-carrying’ champions for the second year in a row after completing the 278 yard dash in just 1 minute 6.72 seconds.

Vytautas Kirkliauskas powered through the obstacle course in Sonkajarvi, Finland with his wife Neringa strapped to his back to retain their position as world champions.

It was a close call though, with former six-time world champion Taisto Miettinen and his new partner Katja Kovanen, from Finland, finishing just a tenth of a second behind them.

After the race, Kirkliauskas said:

“After the second obstacle I thought I wouldn’t make IT, but it’s a great result…my wife, she is the best.”

The annual race attracts couples from over a dozen countries, including France, Germany and Australia, who make the trip to Sonkajarvi, 480 kilometers north of Helsinki, once a year to take part in the competition.

The entry requirements state that the woman must be over 17 years old and at least 49 kilograms (108 pounds). Interestingly, the woman does not actually have to be the man’s wife, despite the event’s name, with the organizers saying that male contestants could “steal a neighbor’s wife” if they don’t have a female partner of their own.

Image credit: AP Photo/David Keyton

The event is inspired by a 19th century tale, “Ronkainen the Robber”, in which villages are pillaged by a gang who steal the women. The length of the course is said to represent the distance needed to be covered in order to avoid being shot by pursuers.

Despite it’s dark inspiration, the sport is considered lighthearted fun by both the male and female participants.

The tradition was revived in 1992 and has evolved somewhat over the years, with the men experimenting in different methods of carrying their woman. A popular method is for the woman to hang upside-down from them man with her legs around his shoulders.

Image credit: AP Photo/David Keyton

It’s a growing sport, with wife carrying races now taking place outside of Finland.  There are national competitions held in England, Australia, Poland and the United States. Even China is now getting in on the act and will be hosting their first national competition in August, looking to compete in the 2020 world championships.

Finland, clearly a country with a sense of fun, also hosts a number of other unusual events including the Air Guitar World Championship, Swamp Soccer, and this year saw the introduction of a heavy metal knitting competition.

The event’s founder, Eero Pitkanen said:

“It’s summertime and we just want to have some fun together… it’s great to see our small town put on the map because of this.”

The rules stipulate that contestants must have fun during the race, but that does not stop them from taking it seriously and trying to win.

As well as winning a trophy, the winning couple also get to return home with the wife’s weight in beer.

“The heavier the wife, the more beer for them,” said Pitkanen.