Ask him something for me, will you?
I have always wondered about my good friend Pekka, with whom I have shared many political opinions and from whom I benefited greatly from his generous support as well as helpful criticism. Everyone who has encountered him, has experienced someone who exudes great wisdom, spirit and kindness. On the occasion of the Solstice, I wish to salute and celebrate this very good fellow.
In time, I learned that he claims both Canada and Finland as 'homelands'. I have speculated on what activities binds these two countries together for him and naturally thought of skiing and hockey as obvious choices, only to learn that Pekka is death on team sports such as hockey and soccer.
Then I discovered a little known fact: Canada and Finland are known to be world centers of a well established but not widely practiced sport of wife-carrying.
The sport originated as a joke in Finland, supposedly reminiscent of a past in which men courted women by running to their village, picking them up, and carrying them off. The Wife Carrying Contest has very deep roots in Sonkajärvi's local history, despite its humorous aspect. In the late 1800s a brigand ancestor of Pekka's, called Rosvo-Ronkainen, was staying in the area. He allegedly only accepted troops who proved their worth on a challenging track. Village raids were conducted where women were stolen and carried off as if by Rosvo-Ronkainen's bandits.
The competition has been somewhat modified these days. (To begin with, all wives have to be returned.) But the tradition of carrying someone else's wife is still very much alive. Even in the enlightened 21st century it's not necessary to carry your own wife - it can be yours or that of someone you know. The only restriction is that baggage (and we use this word in its technical rather than descriptive sense) must be over the age of 17.
The sport is now practised around the world and has a category in the Guinness Book of Records.
Several types of carry may be practised: piggyback, fireman's carry (over the shoulder), or Estonian-style (the wife hangs upside-down with her legs around the husband's shoulders, holding onto his waist).
Prizes are generous, with the champion receiving the wife's weight in beer, and, intriguingly, "a bag full of wifecarrying products".
The original track in the rough terrain with fences, rocks and brooks has been altered to suit modern conditions. These following rules set by the International Wife Carrying Competition Rules Committee apply:
Along with the main event there are also a team competition, a triathlon and a "classic" race. The track is the same but three men in the team carry the wife in turn. At the exchange point the carrier has to drink the official "wife carrying drink" before continuing the race.
- The length of the official track is 253.5 meters, and the surface of the track is partially sand, partially grass and partially gravel
- The track has two dry obstacles and a water obstacle, about one meter deep
- The wife to be carried may be your own, the neighbor's or you may have found her farther afield; she must, however, be over 17 years of age
- The minimum weight of the wife to be carried is 49 kilograms. If it is less than 49 kg, the wife will be burdened with such a heavy rucksack that the total weight to be carried is 49 kg.
- All the participants must have fun
- If a contestant drops his wife that couple will be fined 15 seconds per drop
- The only equipment allowed is a belt worn by the carrier, the carried must wear a helmet.
- The contestants run the race two at a time, so each heat is a contest in itself
- Each contestant takes care of his/her safety and, if deemed necessary, insurance
- Also the most entertaining couple, the best costume and the strongest carrier will be awarded a special prize.
- Participation fee is 50 euro.
This event might seem tailor-made for all those unreconstructed males who still believe the little lady enjoys a bit of macho muscle-flexing.
So, for all of these reasons, I suspect Pekka has qualified as a master in this event, with an international ranking.
If you see him before I do, ask him about it.
And don't believe the first (few) answers he gives you!