July 4, 2013

Summer festivals light up your life

People all over the world are interested in wife carrying, and England, Germany and the US, among other countries, have held qualifying rounds for competitors wanting to take part in Sonkajärvi. A novelty this year is the senior class for men over 40.
People all over the world are interested in wife carrying, and England, Germany and the US, among other countries, have held qualifying rounds for competitors wanting to take part in Sonkajärvi. A novelty this year is the senior class for men over 40.
Wife Carrying World Championships / Pekka Honkakoski

In summer, the light, sun and warmth cause Finland to go wild. Where else but in Festival Finland can you find world championships in wife carrying and air guitar? Prepare to receive nothing but good news.

The world-famous Wife Carrying World Championships take place this weekend (5 and 6 July) in Sonkajärvi, some 400 kilometres north of Helsinki. Around 50 competing couples from all over the world have signed up to take part. Contestants will be arriving from the US, Australia, the Czech Republic, the UK, Estonia, Russia, Germany, South Korea, France and Ireland.

How on earth did wife carrying become a global sport? Veikko Tervonen, one of the organisers of the competition seems amused: it’s all based on a legend.

“In the late 19th century–early 20th century, a local Robin Hood who went by the name of Rosvo Ronkainen, lived in the forest near Sonkajärvi with his merry band of robbers. In the autumn, the mob would go pillage villages on the eastern border, taking everything they could carry with them back to the forest. Sometimes it was a sack of wheat, sometimes the maid, daughter or even mistress of the house.

“Many wanted to join the band but there wasn’t room for everyone,” Tervonen says. “Whoever ran 250 metres the fastest with a sack of rye on his back won a place in the outlaw band. The 253.5 metres run today is based on this, because the effective range of the rifles of Ronkainen’s day was 250 metres. Whoever could run this distance as quickly as possible was safe.”

Could wife carrying become an Olympic sport?

This year marks the 18th Wife Carrying World Championships. According to Tervonen, the event’s popularity is guaranteed and international interest is massive. In addition to the legend, the event is guided by a strong mission: to once a year bring more joy to the endless sea of bad news out there.

“Some of the competitors take the competition seriously, while others just want to put on a show,” Tervonen explains. “While the best clear the demanding course with its water obstacles in just one minute, others take their time, wanting to be in the spotlight. If you take it seriously, this is a tough sport that requires speed, endurance and good vital capacity. It is best suited to half-milers.”

The prize for winning is mostly just fame and glory. The event is carried out with the help of volunteers and the organisers donate the proceeds from the competition to local sports associations, for example. They also dream big. If Tervonen were allowed to decide, he would make wife carrying an Olympic sport.

The manifestation of our sense of irony

The best air guitarists are charismatic performers. Last year’s winner was Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard from the United States (in photo).

The best air guitarists are charismatic performers. Last year’s winner was Justin “Nordic Thunder” Howard from the United States (in photo).

Air Guitar World Championships / Matias Partanen

The Air Guitar World Championships, held in Oulu from 21 to 24 August, also celebrate their 18th year this summer. Oulu is some 200 kilometres north of Sonkajärvi. The World Championships were born in 1996 when the Oulu Music Video Festival was looking for an outdoor event. Producer Hannu Jakku explains that the idea for the air guitar competition was born out of a random remark.

“Now, we have come to realise that playing air guitar is about visualising the music,” Jakku says. “Simultaneously, the ideology of the competition includes promoting world peace and ending climate change.”

Just like the Wife Carrying World Championships, the international visibility of the air guitar competition has skyrocketed due to international competitors and journalists. When Time Magazine listed the event as one of the key events of 2001, its press coverage grew exponentially.

Today, the World Championships are a registered trademark. Competitors arrive annually from 15 to 30 countries, depending on the number of challengers, i.e. dark horses, battling against the masters. The championships consist of an entire four-day festival with many supporting events.

“Playing air guitar is a universal phenomenon, which is unrelated to nationality, but part of rock music and popular culture,” Jakku exlains. “Organising the competition in Finland might be our way of manifesting our sense of irony: although we are modest and shy, we have the audacity to organise peculiar events.”

The Air Guitar World Championships introduction.

Text by: Sari Okko

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