There was more going on at the Lucerne Rowing World Cup than just rowing. In the gap between finals races a very remarkable woman stood on the medals podium. Elisabeta Lipa of Romania was being awarded the Thomas Keller medal for 2008.

Lipa accepted the award, the highest to be awarded in rowing, speaking of the honour, without a translator in English. Accepting awards is something Lipa has become very used to during and following her remarkable rowing career. She has also become used to marking firsts on and off the water.

Lipa is the most medalled Olympic rower in history. She has rowed at six Olympic Games and achieved eight medals, five of them gold. With this Lipa has gained the rowing record for the most years between Olympic gold medals – 20 years. (Sir Steve Redgrave is next with a span of 16 years.)

Her Olympic medals also count Lipa as the first rower to win six Olympic medals (in 1996). Following the 2000 Games, Lipa extended this to be the first rower to win seven Olympic medals and she topped it off in 2004 as the first to win eight medals.

Lipa’s longevity in the sport has made her the oldest oarswoman to win Olympic gold. This came about first in 2000 at the age of 35. Lipa bettered this by racing at the Athens Olympics in 2004 at the age of 39 and also winning gold there.

By Romanian presidential decree, in 2004 Lipa was awarded the title of Police General. She was the first woman in Romania to receive this ranking and comes from a continuing career that has made her high up in the Romanian police force. That same year her sporting achievements were acknowledged outside of Romania with the Eurosport Sport Star Award.

Lipa readily admits her life is rowing. “I exist and I breathe through rowing,” said Lipa in 2003. “The rhythm of my existence is in deep accordance with the great sporting events, the World Championships and the Olympic Games.”

Lipa has retired twice in her career. The first time was following gold in the women’s eight at the 1996 Olympics then for a second time after the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Lipa had every intention of continuing on to Olympics number seven in Beijing this year, but she used her standing in Romania to put a proviso on that intention. Lipa said she would be willing to continue if the Romanian government promised to fund a six-laned Olympic standard rowing course. The course is yet to be completed. Lipa thus retired. Lipa does hope, however, that the course will be finished at a later date.

Lipa now gives back to the rowing community as a member of FISA’s athletes’ commission amongst other things.