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***smuggles column past the G&M sniffer dogs***

It's 'perverse' how an Estonian can sometimes carry his wife
By ANTHONY REINHART

Saturday, June 25, 2005 Page A11

The backdrop was fitting, if unwitting: the priapic CN Tower, hard by the come-hither curves of the John Street Roundhouse, site of Steam Whistle Brewing.

It was there, under the glare of the prenoon sun and photographers' flashbulbs, that a young couple demonstrated the "reverse Estonian" method, also known as the "perverse Estonian," for a group of reporters yesterday.

Had it been billed as a sex seminar -- think of a live-action Kama Sutra, only with clothing -- it might have made more sense than what it actually was: a demonstration of an alleged sport called wife-carrying.

"There is no Canadian method yet," quipped Markus Raty, who, with his girlfriend, Dorothy Kazula, will compete in the World Wife-Carrying Championships in Finland next weekend.

Marriage, alas, is not a prerequisite for the bizarre contest, won by the fastest man to carry a woman through a 253.5-metre course, complete with two hurdles and a 10-metre slog through waist-high water. The woman must weigh at least 49 kilograms (108 pounds), and if she doesn't, they weigh her down with sandbags.

A sense of humour, on the other hand, is highly recommended. And Mr. Raty should consider himself lucky that Ms. Kazula has one, to go along with her black belt in karate.

"We're definitely the underdogs," said Mr. Raty, a 30-year-old Canadian-born son of Finnish parents. "I love Dorothy to death, but she ain't 49 kg."

He quickly added: "I'm also not the biggest strongman in the world. I've been putting on strength and Dorothy's been dropping the pounds, so we've been closing in on the right combination."

To be clear, Ms. Kazula, 27, is no heavyweight, just one of the majority of women who do not weigh 108 pounds.

She is definitely down from the 140 she weighed a few weeks ago, when the couple enlisted trainer Poul Nielsen in their quest for world domination, but her current weight is, for the moment, a competitive secret.

Successful as they've been at shaping up, the road to Sonkajärvi, Finland -- where a 10,000-seat stadium is expected to be full for next Saturday's races -- has not been without its bumps, much like couplehood itself.

Food has been a sore point, with Mr. Raty, a trim man of average build, trying to gain strength and bulk up while Ms. Kazula slims down.

Then, at a barbecue last week, he dropped her on her head during a demonstration for friends -- though Ms. Kazula was quick to take the blame. "It was my fault," she said. "He wasn't in running position."

Training for the event, Mr. Raty added, has "allowed us to work through a lot of tension over differences of opinion" over such issues as diet and the design of their racing T-shirts.

The biggest hurdles, though, will be their human rivals, since "there's a lot of big-dude, little-girl combinations there," he said.

Among them, reportedly, will be Ireland's strongest man, as well as former basketball star Dennis Rodman, though a June 9 bulletin from the World Entertainment News Network said Mr. Rodman had to pull out after his wife was slightly injured in a motorcycle accident.

Which brings us to the Estonians, reigning champions and archrivals of the Finns, and their widely copied method of wife-carrying: with the woman hanging upside down from the man's shoulders, face toward his back, legs clamped around his neck.

Before their first race at a Finnish festival in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., two years ago, Mr. Raty and Ms. Kazula got it all wrong as they practised in a hotel hallway -- hence the reverse (or perverse) Estonian. It's similar to the regular Estonian method, except the woman hangs the other way, facing the man's groin, while hers ends up, well . . . you get the picture.

Suffice it to say that, despite its pitfalls, wife-carrying is a lot more fun today than it was in the 1800s, when men from Sonkajärvi not only coveted their neighbours' wives, but stole them, too.

Mr. Raty, who writes for a Finnish-Canadian newspaper and maintains strong cultural ties to his ancestral homeland, said the race is not some dark holdover from a sexist past, but rather a twisted tribute to an old legend in a country that also holds contests for boot throwing, air-guitar-playing and swamp soccer.

"Life doesn't have to be ultra-serious," he said, pre-empting any haughty questions about political correctness. "Finland is so comfortable in its equality in all respects."

Still, only one winning couple can cross that Finnish line, and Mr. Raty and Ms. Kazula intend to be that one, underdogs or not.

As for making it a true wife-carrying event some day, Mr. Raty said that's his plan.

"One day, this young lady will be my wife -- her willing, of course."

Crossing the threshold? No sweat.

areinhart@globeandmail.ca
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