Karppinen has achieved something that only one other athlete can claim – winning three consecutive Olympic single sculling titles. Karppinen sits only with the great Russian sculler Vyacheslav Ivanov in this feat.

Like his famous predecessor, Ivanov, Karppinen would row a steady race, often falling behind the rest of the field, and then he would unleash a devastating sprint to win. At 201cm and 100kg, Karppinen’s massive reach often gave him an advantage over his competitors.

It also meant that the great single sculler of the same era, Peter Michael Kolbe of West Germany, never managed to win an Olympic gold, despite his numerous World Champion titles. Karppinen raced Kolbe at both the 1976 and 1984 Olympic Games. Karppinen pushed Kolbe into second on both occasions by upping his stroke rate and rowing through Kolbe in the last 250-300m of the race

In between Olympic Games Karppinen did not always dominate. From 1976 to 1984 – Karppinen’s period of reign of Olympic dominance – he won only one World Championship title (1979) and then another in 1985. But Karppinen knew how to get it right when it counted and thus three Olympic golds.

Karppinen continued to row through two more Olympic Games, but did not medal again. At his last Olympics, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, Karppinen was 39 years old. Arrhythmia problems with his heart, which he also felt at the 1988 Olympics, prompted his decision to retire.

Karppinen’s amazing achievements have made him a hero for many rowers including British Olympic Champion Sir Matthew Pinsent who commented on his website: "The ability to win only the one race in four years that matters is staggering, added to which his inability to speak English made him a silent god as far as I was concerned."

After taking several years out from rowing Karppinen is again involved, stating: "Rowing is still a big part of my life. I train with the erg and row different boat classes to keep fit." As well as rowing and sometimes competing Karppinen does some coaching at his local club but, he says, strictly as a hobby.