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SONKAJARVI, (Finland), July 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Fifty-three men slung their wives or partners over their shoulders and hurtled off on an hour-long race in the small Finnish town of Sonkajarvi, as thousands of fans cheered from the stands.

The World Wife-Carrying Championship, now in its 23rd year, draws thousands of visitors to the town of 4,200 and has gained followers across the world.

There are official qualifying competitions in countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden and Estonia. On Saturday, 53 couples from 13 countries joined the competition, organizers said.

The idea of wife-carrying as a sport was inspired by the 19th century legend of Ronkainen the Robber, who tested aspiring members of his gang by forcing them to carry sacks of grain or live pigs over a similar course.

The championship is also said to stem from an even earlier practice of wife-stealing - leading many present-day contestants to compete with someone else’s wife.

On Saturday, Lithuanian parents of two Vytautas Kirkliauskas and Neringa Kirkliauskiene won the race which involved running, wading through a slippery pool and getting through an obstacle course. The two defeated six times world champion Taisto Miettinen, a Finn.