Wife Carrying champions from Lithuania: meet the family!

Kirkliauskai family, the World Wife Carrying Campions from Lithuania. Photos from Kirkliauskai family album (4)

The Lithuanian spouses have won the title of the World Wife Carrying Championship in Finland again.  This title, for which men compete with their wives on their shoulders, was grabbed by the couple for the second year in a row.

Vytautas Kirkliauskas and his wife Neringa Kirkliauskienė overcame the difficult 253.5-meter obstacle race in 1 minute and 6.72 seconds. Taiisto Miettinen, who has won the title six times previously, and his new partner Katja Kovanen, trailed them by very little – just a tenth of a second.

Couples from dozens of countries participate in Wolrd Wife Carrying annual competition in the Finnish city of Sonkajärvi, located 480 kilometers north of Helsinki.

The Lithuania Tribune spoke to the World Wife Carrying champions.

You have won the World Wife Carrying Championship twice in a row now. Also, on the day of Mindaugas’ coronation. How did you feel, when you found out you became champions once again?

Yes, it’s very symbolic and pleasant that for two years in a row, Lithuania’s name and flag rose above all others at the distant town of Sonkajärvi in Finland. The feeling is hard to put in words because it was a moment you wait so much. There were worries even after finishing because as it turned out, we and the Finns, who took second place, were separated by only 0.1 of a second. But when the judges declared us the winners, euphoria flooded in.

Wife carrying, what is it – a sport, leisure, lifestyle? How would you describe it?

To us, Wife Carrying, first of all, a sport. Because you have to exercise much, prepare, train, all in order to achieve the required result. It has no doubt become a lifestyle for us. Together everywhere with my wife, it strengthens the family, sets an example to our children (we have two boys, Nojus and Adomas, who are respectively 6 and 2.9 years old).

Why did you take up wife carrying?

Back in 2009, I read a newspaper article about how the World Wife Carrying Championship in Finland was won by Taisto Mietinen and his wife. That same evening, I showed the article to Neringa and told her, “Let’s try it too. After all, I have inherited strong legs from my dad Alvydas Kirkliauskas (strongest man in Lithuania 1992), I only need to add speed and endurance and perhaps one day we will win in the world championship as well.”

My wife agreed without hesitation. This is how our road to sports together began.  In the same year, we won the first Lithuanian Wife Carrying Championship in Dusetos (this year, the eleventh championship was held there). We managed to win four times (2009, 2014, 2018, 2019).

Kirkliauskai family, the World Wife Carrying Campions from Lithuania. Photos from Kirkliauskai family album (4)
Can you tell us more about Wife Carrying , its rules?

The world Wife Carrying championship has been held for 24 years now. There are several rules that must be upheld by all those intent on participating. First of all, both athletes must be adults, the woman being carried must weigh no less than 49 kilograms.

If her personal weight is lower, the woman must then wear a weighted backpack on her shoulders. Without a doubt, the woman being carried must wear a helmet. The length of the course is maintained at 253.5 meters. There are two obstacles on the course that must be climbed over, as well as a large 20 meters long and 1.2-meter deep pool, which all couples must cross. 2 couples start in every run. At the end of the competition, the fastest couple wins.

Is this sport popular in Lithuania? Are championships held?

I would like for this sport to also gain popularity in Lithuania. For men to carry their beloved wives. The Lithuanian Wife Carrying Championship is held in Dusetos (the eleventh one having been held this year). We managed to win four times (2009, 2014, 2018, 2019). For ten years, a Wife-Carrying competition was held in Šiauliai, where you had to overcome a 314m long course around the Šiauliai arena.

However, this competition faded away and is no longer held. Wife carrying competitions were also held in Kaunas’ Ąžuolyno Bėgimas, Marijampolė Suvalkijos Pusmaratonis, but these two events are also no longer held.

Kirkliauskai family, the World Wife Carrying Campions from Lithuania. Photos from Kirkliauskai family album (4)
This isn’t your first world championship. Did you train long and how?

This is our fifth time travelling to Finland to participate in the World Wife Carrying Championship.

In 2010, we took 5th place, 2011 – 3rd, 2015 – 5th, 2018 – 1st and 2019 – 1st.

It just so happened that we prepared for a year for the 2018 championship, as we did this year. So, to sum up, that’s two years of intensive preparations. During the winter period, I go on runs on my own, exercise in the gym to strengthen my muscles, while when the weather warms, we take to the stadium or parks together with my wife Neringa and run distances together.

Is the event more challenging for the husband or wife?

I think for both. It is a real challenge for the husband because upon completing the track, you are completely exhausted. It is no less of a challenge for the wife because you have to hang with your head hanging down, furthermore, for a time she is submerged when you enter the pool. Thus, the victory is a mutual accomplishment.

Who in your family is the greater enthusiast of this sport – the husband or the wife?

Neringa: In our family, it’s the husband. He follows results, competitions, interacts with the organisers of other countries’ wife-carrying competitions, organises the trips, seeks out the hotels and such.

What’s your formula for success?

Mutual trust and understanding.

Kirkliauskai family, the World Wife Carrying Campions from Lithuania. Photos from Kirkliauskai family album (4)

What prize did you receive for first place?

The organisers award the winners and runners up with various gifts from supporters and of course, beautiful medals made exclusively for this competition. Another nice tradition is that the winners receive as much Finnish beer as the wife in the winning pair weighs. Thus, we brought back some beer with us.

What did you do with this prize?

Treated everyone!

Are the Finns not angry at you that you stop them from winning?

The Finns are very calm and cultured people. They don’t show much emotion. Of course, perhaps it would be more fun for them if a representative from their country won, but they are none too upset that others win.

This way, the geography [of the competition] expands, the sport becomes more popular. We particularly felt it this year because we received much media attention. A German television created a show about us. That’s very pleasant.

Are you already preparing for the next world championship?

I have been doing sports for 28 years now (earlier I did weight lifting, now I do running), so I can’t do without sports. We rested for a few days, but then it’s back to the gym. Next year’s championship is still an open question, I will decide with my wife. Of course, we have already received an invitation from the organisers to come to defend our champion title. But we will decide about it later.

Do you think this sport will be included in the Olympic Games?

To be honest, I do not think so. But at the same time, likely no one would be upset about it because Sonkajarvi is world famous namely because of its wife-carrying championship.

Do you think that perhaps a World Lithuanian Wife Carrying Championship should be organised?

We receive very many messages of congratulations and calls from Lithuanians living abroad. This means this message reaches countries around the world. We hope that it will encourage them to do sports and take pride in their country. And perhaps someday to gather world Lithuanians to carry their loved ones!

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