Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: Odd Competitions Fill Summer Doldrums

It is officially the driest week in sports. While Major League Baseball takes a rest for its All-Star break, we sports fans are left in the lurch. Most would view this period as a kind of curse, but I look at it as an opportunity to explore the sporting competitions that might be otherwise obscured by the more popular traditional summertime sports stories like NFL player arrests.

I tried to find information on a sport of which I've only seen clips, but those were enough to tell me that it might be the greatest spectator sport of all time. From what I've gathered from those snippets, two men in their underwear stand inside a circle of fans and proceed to whip each other — with poisonous snakes. I spent all day Monday trying to find mention of this on the Internet to no avail. I even invoked the name of Samuel L. “Get these snakes off my ……… plane” Jackson three times — nothing. It should be noted however, that the search terms “beating each other with snakes” can produce some highly unsavory results.

I am genuinely sad about this, so if anyone can pass me some information on this sport, please shoot me an e-mail. In the meantime, we move on.

Patriotism demands a look at the events of Independence Day and the restoration of American pride in the most American competition on the planet — The Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. For years, challengers had played second fiddle to competitive eating's top dog, Takeru Kobayashi, but no more. Hail Joey Chestnut, who, after devouring 66 hot dogs, was dubbed by at least one play-by-play announcer as “a real American hero.”

We may be getting a little ahead of ourselves in comparing a competitive eater with the intrepid souls who stormed the beaches of Normandy. However, hot dog eating does not come without its pitfalls.

Slate ran a fascinating article on July 3 on how a recent jaw injury sustained by Kobayashi had pushed competitive eating-related maladies into the same category as sports injuries, noting also that the training for such events might prohibit competitors from being able to digest normally in the future. More drastic still was a litany of eating contest-related deaths that included strokes, choking and burst stomachs.

We tend to get a good chuckle from exaggerated glories of eating contests, but this business, which occasionally features purses in the thousands of dollars, is not always a laughing matter.

That statement, however, is hard to apply to another recently-held competition in Sonkajarvi, Finland, home of the World Wife Carrying Championships.

To briefly summarize the event the Fins call “akankanto” (which I believe is Finnish for “The winters are really long here and we have a lot of time on our hands”), a man carries his woman in any variety of ways over an obstacle course consisting of a small body of water and several hurdles. According to the popular on-line encyclopedia,, the contest is a nod to the past when Finnish men would “court” women by running into their villages and carrying them away. Most may know this practice, in the common parlance of our times, as “abduction.”

But one person's definition of assault is another's definition of a championship sport. You say “tomato,” I say “tomahto” …

The fastest pair this year, Madis Uusorg and Inga Klauso, won a plasma television in addition to the traditional prize of the wife's weight in beer.

Techniques for the event vary, though Estonian couples have developed a unique style in which the wife hangs upside down from her husband's back with her legs wrapped around his neck and her head resting … well … pretty much where you think it would rest. The position might seem odd, but it is effective. An Estonian couple has won the contest each of the last 10 years. Seven of those 10 victories have been claimed by Uusorg or his brother Margo. Margo is kind of like the Roger Federer of the wife carrying circuit, winning the event five times from 2000 to 2006.

An interesting note here. As the Uusorg brothers have won seven times, and figuring that their female cargo weighed at least 100 lbs., this means that the brothers have won 700 lbs. of beer in the past eight years. Given that, is it any surprise the Uusorg boys have won the title with four different women?

Before we get any wrong ideas about the Uusorgs' marital status, it should be known that the rules state that the wife carried can be your own, your neighbor's or “one met farther afield.” This year, Margo Uusorg competed with an Irish woman that the Associated Press described as “rather heavily built.” How would you like to go down in the annals of wife-carrying history with that description?

I haven't seen any instances of any gender role reversals at the competition, but if any women out there are actually intrigued by the notion of carrying their man on their back in pursuit of about 170 pounds of beer and a plasma TV, I know more than a few gentlemen who would love to spend the rest of their lives with you.