I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
The English are supposed to be a nation of eccentrics, but the Finns have their share of people doing oddball things; it is, after all, the country that invented the world air-guitar championships. BBC News reports on many of Finland’s more unusual summer competitions:
“The mobile phone throwing world championship in Finland . . . is just one of many crazy contests on the country’s summer diary. Helsingin Sanomat columnist Perttu Haekkinen asks why Finns have such a fondness for these wacky pursuits.”
Mr. Haekkinen thinks it might have a lot to do with attracting tourists and helping them to spend their money. The following five contests are just a few examples of these tourist draws:
5 Crazy Contests in Finland
- World Wife-Carrying Championships
- World Sauna Championships (Defunct)
- World Boot-Throwing Championships
- Swamp Soccer
- World Farting Championships
World Wife-Carrying Championships
The World Wife-Carrying Championships have been held annually since 1992 in Sonkajaervi, a small village in northeastern Finland. Normally, this community is home to less than 5,000 people, but on the weekend of the big event, between 8,000 and 9,000 tourists show up.
In 2016, couples from Russia, Austria, America, and Japan joined the strong local contingent of Finns. Contestants must carry their ladies over a 250-metre course with two beams to climb over and a one-metre deep water hazard to negotiate.
Wives can be “borrowed." However, the “wife” must weigh at least 49 kilos (108 pounds).
The official website for the event claims that “The wife-carrying is good for your relationship.” No doubt that’s why this competition has been copied in other places.
World Sauna Championships (Defunct)
As a spectator sport, sitting in a sauna lacks the frisson of athletic challenge such as the 100-metre dash or even the caber toss. However, what it lacks in athleticism it makes up for in the—ahem—high temperature of competition. The winner is the one who can stay in a sauna the longest. But, the contest is not held in a typical spa sauna where the temperature may be 80 degrees Celsius.
The Daily Telegraph (August 2009) reported on the heated battle for world champion status held annually in the city of Heinola:
“Home favourite Timo Kaukonen won the men’s event late on Saturday by withstanding a sweltering 110 degrees Celsius (230 degrees Fahrenheit) for 3 minutes 46 seconds. He beat compatriot Ilkka Poeyhiae by two seconds.
Russia’s Tatyana Arkhipenko took the women’s event, braving the heat for three minutes and nine seconds.”
The rules are very simple: Contestants must sit upright, and if they can’t stand the heat, they must get out of the sauna.
Tragedy and the End of the Championships
But, in 2010, tragedy struck. After six minutes of sweaty combat Russian Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy and reigning champion Timo Kaukonen of Finland were pulled from the sauna by medical workers.
The Globe and Mail reports that “The men were suffering from burns so severe witnesses said they were bleeding all over their bodies.” It was too late for Mr. Ladyzhenskiy, who was pronounced dead; Timo Kaukonen was taken to hospital and listed in stable condition.
The organizers decided never to hold the World Sauna Championships again.
World Boot-Throwing Championships
It’s claimed that this “sport” had its origins in England where it is called, somewhat prosaically, "Gumboot Throwing." In New Zealand, where they use more colourful language and call it “Wellie Wanging,” the town of Taihape has the nerve to call itself "The Boot-Throwing Capital of the World." There are other claimants to the holding of the world championship. Clearly, the United Nations needs to busy itself with deciding which is the legitimate venue.
The Finnish version of the World Boot-Throwing Championship is held every year in Heinola, 138 kilometres north of Helsinki—the same location as the ill-fated sauna contest.
Harri Kinnunen, two-time organizer of the Boot-Throwing World Championships, thinks he knows how the whole thing got started:
“I think it’s pretty obvious that some drunken people were sitting on a terrace after a sauna and saw a rubber boot . . . I guess all Finnish summer sports were invented by drunk people.”
Of course, distance is the determining factor in deciding the winner. It’s not clear whether prowess in this sport is readily transferable to the workplace.
Swamp soccer, and its winter variant “snow soccer,” are enormously popular in Finland and elsewhere.
There’s some doubt about the origins of the “sport;” the English claim (them again) to have invented it, but so do the Finns. The game is played in a similar way to regular soccer only the pitch is a bog or swamp.
The Finns hold the world championships in Ukkohalla, in July, and it’s big. The tournament’s website boasts that in 2016 “Competitions are attended by nearly 300 teams, more than 4,000 players from 10 different countries.”
Teams came from Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Germany, Poland, and The United Kingdom but the Finns were triumphant, winning both the man’s and women’s contests.
As of this writing, the event has not been sanctioned by FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body, so it remains relatively free of corruption.
World Farting Championships
Save the best for last, they say, so here is a tournament dear to the hearts of all adolescent males and certain old journalists who should have grown out of it decades ago.
Through the generous sponsorship of a company that makes canned pea soup, the town of Utajärvi was able to hold the First World Farting Championships. However, judging by the sparseness of the crowd shown in a video of the 2013 battle of the bottoms the organizers need some professional event planners.
A diligent Internet search has turned up no evidence of a subsequent feud of the farts. No doubt the apparent demise is due to concern over the release of greenhouse gasses.
The Finns borrowed the idea for a gas gala from 17th century Japan where “He-gassens” or fart battles were held (depicted above in all their flatulent glory).
The rules are simple. First and foremost is the willingness to make a complete arse of oneself in public. Contestants have 30 seconds to produce a fanny burp and the winner is determined by decibel count. No additional points are awarded for pungency.
Russians carried off the 2013 prize: 104 cans of pea soup, of course.
- National Sleepyhead Day is held in Finland every July 27. Traditionally, the last to wake is woken with water.
- The northern town of Pelkosenniemi holds an annual mosquito swatting contest. Whoever kills the most pesky little critters in five minutes wins. The current record is 21. However, the Swede Kristoffer Eker Sund put the Finns to shame in what is claimed to be the World Cup in mosquito-whacking in Övertorneå, Norway with a kill rate of 135 in five minutes.
- “Russian Man Dies During World Sauna Championship.” Joe Friesen, The Globe and Mail, August 23, 2012.
- “Honestly, I Carry you in this Relationship!...” Gaby Bissett, Mail Online, July 2, 2016.
- “Finland’s Passion for Crazy Contests.” BBC News, August 22, 2009.
- “The History of Farting for Money.” Linda Rodriguez, New Republic, December 30, 2015.
© 2016 Rupert Taylor