A new meaning for carrying the bride

  • 2002-07-11
  • Aleksei Gunter

For the fifth straight year, Estonians snagged first prize in the international wife-carrying competition, outpacing the competition from seven other countries in one of the world's quirkiest contests.

Using the famed "Estonian carry" technique in which the woman hangs onto her husband by squeezing his head with her thighs and hanging upside down along his back, Meelis Tammre and Anna Zilberberg successfully navigated the 253.5-meter-long obstacle course in Sonkajarvi, Finland, in one minute and four seconds.

The couple had to contend with grass, sand, asphalt and a one-meter-deep pool of water before crossing the finish line.

The Finnish couple Taisto Miettinen and Heidi Yliharju finished second while another Estonian duo, Jaanus and Anneli Undrest, placed third.

"My legs were really tired," said Tammre after the competition. "But we had a great time in a good company."

Tammre, 24, works for a soft drinks company while his partner, Zilberberg, 21, is a student at the Estonian Academy of Agriculture. Zilberberg said she had to gain 2 kilograms to compete, thanks to a 49-kilo-minimum imposed by contest organizers to keep the competition fair.

That translated into two weeks of nothing but chocolate bars and condensed milk, she said.

Chances are both contestants will put on a few more kilos by the time they make their way through their winnings: the woman's weight in beer.

Wife-carrying is one of the many odd sports popular in Estonia and neighbor Finland.

Others include mobile phone throwing - residents in the land of Nokia and environs must have so many of the darn things that they can afford to toss a few.

Wife-carrying originated in the Finnish countryside in the 19th century when it was a popular prank to steal women from a neighbor's village.

Another legend has it that a bandit named Rosvo-Rinkainen, who lived in the Sonkajarvi area in the late 19th century, would accept into his gang only those who could haul their wives through a challenging course similar to the one used today.

Sonkajarvi residents and businesses revived the tradition for fun, and the sport has attracted contestants from countries around the world.

This year, couples from Great Britain, the United States, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands joined their Estonian and Finnish counterparts.

Today's rules are a bit more lax than the original ones. Couples do not actually need to be husband and wife, and men can choose any woman who is at least 17 and meets the minimum weight requirement.

If a contestant drops his "wife," the couple is fined 15 seconds per drop.

Estonians have been participating in the contest since 1996, when Sonkajarvi businesses began promoting it as a means of bringing in tourists.

Estonian aspirants have to first prove their mettle in a local competition held each year in the eastern village of Vaike-Maarja.

The top pairs then travel to Finland for the world championship.

Zilberberg said Estonia's phenomenal victory streak is explained by their svelte and beautiful women.