[Guest post by Andrew Green]
When the summer sun comes to Finland, warm clear skies and spectacular scenery combine to bring out the fun and adventurous spirit in Finns and visitors alike. And to prove the point, Finland plays host to two unusual world championship events every summer – wife carrying and air guitar, both of which are now in their eighteenth year.
Wife carrying would seem to be an unlikely sport and the fact that there is actually a world championship is even more extraordinary, but every year couples from all around the world descend on Sonkajärvi, about 400kms north of Helsinki, to fight for the title. Competitors have to carry their ‘wife’, who must weigh at least 49kgs (108 pounds), over a 253.5 metre long obstacle course (approx. 1/6 mile) . Since the first championship, only couples from Finland and Estonia have ever won the title and, since 2009, the Finnish pair of Taist Miettinen and Kristiina Haapanen have reigned supreme, retaining their title in July this year.
The sport is thought to have romantic origins. According to event organiser Veikko Tervonen, a 19th century bandit named Rosvo Ronkainen roamed the forests around Sonkajärvi with a band of robbers who would raid the local villages and carry off their loot – which sometimes included village women – back to their lair. Folklore has it that the robber band was so popular that many young men wanted to join so Ronkainen organised a race in which candidates had to run with a sack of rye for 250 metres. The winner would be accepted. The present race distance is based on the effective range of rifles in Ronkainen’s day – 250 metres.
Competitors range from those who take the event very seriously – Tervonen thinks it should be an Olympic sport – to those who just want to have some fun and a chance of glory. And the prize: a moment in the spotlight and the wife’s weight in beer.
For the more musically minded, the Air Guitar World Championships in late August could be just the ticket. Held in Oulu, around 200kms north of Sonkajärvi, the championships began in 1996 as an outdoor event for Oulu’s music video festival. Event producer Hannu Jakku says that, just like the wife carrying, the event has become an international phenomenon as competitors from around the world have joined in the fun. It grew as press coverage increased after Time Magazine listed it as one of the world’s key events of 2001.
According to Jakku, air guitar is part of rock music culture around the world and every year competitors from up to 30 countries gather in Oulu to take part in the four-day event.
With such unusual world championship events you have to ask yourself just what it is about the Finns that produces such success. They take the unlikely and turn it into a world-beater. Strange competitions that become world famous, an education system that looks so laid back and yet is one of the world’s best and some of the world’s most innovative tech wizards prove that there is something slightly magical about Finland.
By Andrew Green – a passionate Scandinavian traveller and a keen copywriter.