Jueri Jaanson of Estonia in action in the Mens Single Sculls during the World Rowing Championships on August 26, 2003 at Fila Idropark in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
A true legend in his country and hero in the sport of rowing, Jueri Jaanson’s longevity in the sport is second to none.

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Of the five finalists, Jueri Jaanson retired most recently, in late 2010, at the age of 45. His illustrious career lasted through more than 20 years of international racing including six Olympic Games. Jaanson won his first World Champion title in 1990. Since then his resilience was evident as he worked his way through as many downs as ups finding his biggest success in the later years of his career.

After Jaanson’s 1990 World Champion title it took another 14 years before Jaanson made it to the Olympic podium. This 2004 Athens medal in the men’s single sculls also helped Jaanson in being named Estonian Man of the Year, an award that is not just for athletes, but covers all areas of society.

In Jaanson’s early rowing years he competed for the Soviet Union before rowing for the newly independent Estonia. As an athlete however, Jaanson went beyond borders. He trained around the world and can name training partners from many nations including Ireland’s Sam Lynch, Tim Larson from the United States, Slovenia’s Iztok Cop and Olaf Tufte of Norway. His list of coaches that have been part of his career reads like a who’s who of rowing. Amongst them are Igor Grinko and Thor Nilsen. Jaanson commented that he appreciated their fanaticism for the sport. “Working with them was hard but enjoyable,” says Jaanson. 

Rowing the majority of his career in the single, Jaanson also dabbled in team boats including the double, in which he won an Olympic medal and the quad, in which he won a world championship medal. In Jaanson’s entire rowing career he only ever took four or five months out of the boat. This was usually in the winter time when it was not possible to row.

On his retirement Jaanson stated, “It was a great career, I really do not miss anything. Not even an olympic gold, the only thing I did not get. I gave everything to win an olympic gold medal and got lot of experiences and knowledges catching this. I have got many friends all over the world and I am happy about that.

“I would wish success and perseverance to all of my former competitors, also fortune to all of my rowing friends! I am thankfuI for the coaches and all the other people who have helped and guided me on my way to becoming the best. I am happy that they were and always will be part of my life.“

The Thomas Keller medal is the most prestigious award in rowing. It has been around since 1990 and honours the best in the sport. It takes into account, not only those who have reached the top in rowing, but also those who have succeeded in the even harder task of staying there.