Wife-Carrying Contest Brings Finnish Tradition Stateside

Image: Jeff and Kelly Lyons clear the first obstacle while competing in the North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River ski resort in Newry
Jeff and Kelly Lyons clear the first obstacle. Nearly every team employed the "Estonian carry," in which the woman hangs head down with her legs hooked around the man's neck and her arms around his waist, which frees his hands.BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

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Men with their wives slung over their shoulders bounded over log hurdles and charged through a muddy pit on a mountainside in Maine on Saturday, as hundreds of spectators cheered them on at the North American Wife Carrying Championship.

The annual event, now in its 15th year, held at the base of a grassy ski mountain at the Sunday River resort in Maine had all the trappings of a serious competition.

There were fit competitors in numbered bibs, a precision clock and a winners' podium, but from the moment the announcer declared "saddle up!", it was clear this competition was as whimsical as they come.

Eventual winners Jesse Wall carries his friend Christina Arsenault through the water pit. Despite the competition's name, the couple does not need to be married. Under the rules of the game, they won Arsenault's weight in beer and five times the numerical value of her weight in cash.BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

Competitor John Lund sported big spikes protruding from shoulder pads, studded wristbands and a skeleton mask.

"The people in Finland put together this event because they felt there should be at least one news story in the year that makes people laugh," said Lund, who spent four years in Finland, the birthplace of wife-carrying as a modern sport.

The competition began there in the 1990s and was inspired loosely by the legend of a 19th century outlaw who tested the mettle of his gang of robbers by having them run an obstacle course with a woman on their backs.

For all the oddities of the Maine event, the 278-yard course in the shape of a horseshoe presented a grueling challenge to competitors, who ran up and down a steep slope, surmounted log hurdles and charged through a pit filled knee-high with muddy water.

— Reuters