By a margin of only a third of a second, a Boston couple claimed victory at the 8th annual North American Wife Carrying Championships held Saturday at Sunday River Ski Resort.
"We could never expect something this good," said Keith Cardoza after successfully bringing Julia Stoner, his girlfriend of six months, through the 253.3 meter course.
For the victory, Cardoza and Stoner may receive $1,000 toward a trip to attend the World Wife Carrying Championships in Finland. The couple were also awarded a check for $675 (five times Stoner's weight) and Stoner's weight in beer. The latter amounted to nine twelve-pack cases.
Second place went to Ri Fahnestock and his friend Sarah Silverberg of Newmarket, N.H. While Cardoza and Stoner maneuvered the course in 1:02.26, Fahnestock and Silverberg came through in 1:02.60.
"It hurts, especially in a race that close," said Fahnestock. "I could taste the beer."
Defeat was softened by the silver medal: Silverberg's weight in beverages, which also amounted to nine cases of beer.
Saturday's competition saw varying numbers entrants. Forty teams registered, though only 34 made it to the starting line. Most teams were from New England, though there were also couples from New York, Virginia and California.
Participants do not need to be related, but teams need to be made up of one man and one woman, both over the age of 21. Wives are allowed to carry husbands, though no teams chose that option this year.
According to the Sunday River Web site, the competition is derived from a 19th century Finnish robber baron whose men were tested by hauling heavy sacks. The men, the site says, were also not averse to stealing women from nearby villages.
John St. Hilaire of Minot decided to get into the role by wearing a Norse helmet while carrying his wife, Jeannine. His goal was to please the crowd.
"We'd love to win, but we're just here to have fun," said John.
Contestants competed in pairs over a course that sloped gradually at the beginning. Teams also had to negotiate two 3-foot high wooden hurdles and a 10-meter-long pit of muddy, waist-deep water.
Most teams practiced the "Estonian carry," where the woman hangs down the man's back so his arms are free to negotiate obstacles.
Lucas and Elizabeth Hartford of Litchfield were doing the competition for the second time. Lucas said his personal goal was to not finish last; Elizabeth said her goal was to not be dropped. The couple said they had not trained for the event.
"Last year we did a little bit and it didn't help us," said Lucas.
Bill Moorhouse and Kristen Bannish of Charlottesville, Va., were running the course for the fourth time. The competition occurred just days before their 10th anniversary, which is on Monday. Moorhouse said he and Bannish had practiced for the event on their block.
"We created a stir in the neighborhood," said Moorhouse.
Perhaps too much of a stir; the couple said someone called the Neighborhood Watch to report the activity.
Fahnestock and Silverberg practiced more discreetly, in the woods during their lunch hour where a felled tree offered good practice for the hurdles.
"We haven't gone through the mud pit, though," said Silverberg.
Teams were penalized if the wife was dropped and the mud pit provided ample opportunity for such incidents. Prior to the final run, Cardoza pinned the race on getting through the water.
"I think we just need a good, smooth entrance into the mud pit," he said.
The photo finish between Cardoza/Stoner and Fahnestock/Silverberg was foreshadowed by the closeness of their times in the initial heat. Although running separately, Fahnestock and Silverberg clocked in at 1:03.19, while Cardoza and Stoner came in fractionally later at 1:03.38.
The teams qualified for a championship run, during which they were neck-and -neck through the mud pit, over the second hurdle and right up until the finish.
Cardoza said he was not sure if he and Stoner will go to the world competition, and Fahnestock and Silverberg later exchanged contact information with the couple.