This is the first in a new series where we find out what happened to some of the inspiring individuals that make up our sport.

Karppinen is one of the rowing greats. His rivalry in the men’s single sculls with Peter-Michael Kolbe from Germany is arguably one of the best in the history of the sport. Karppinen is one of only two rowers to ever win three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the men’s single. Russia’s Vyacheslav Ivanov is the other one.

Karppinen won his three gold medals at the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. He went on to compete in two more Olympic Games in 1988 and 1992, before retiring from competitive international rowing. But he has stayed involved in the sport ever since.

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Now, aged 66, he says he no longer trains competitively. “I still row, mainly indoor. I have done my fair share of competing during my elite years, so right now I like to just enjoy rowing and keep good fitness.” He also coaches and does administrative work at his local rowing club, Neste.

While still competing Karppinen worked as a fire fighter and then went on to become fire chief. After he finished rowing Karppinen did entrepreneurial work as a sports massage therapist. He married (a non-rower but avid rowing supporter) and has two children. Both children have rowed for Finland and youngest, Eeva last competed for Finland at the 2017 World Rowing Championships as a single sculler. 

For the most part, Karppinen says he looks back fondly on his rowing memories. “Rowing has given me a lot and I have always loved the challenge of rowing. I feel like there was always something to learn. I often think back about races. There is something about the feeling of lining up at the start and giving everything you’ve got.”

When asked if he would have done something differently, there is one thing that lingers in his mind – the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. At the Seoul Olympics, Karppinen missed qualifying for the final and ended the Games seventh overall.

“Perhaps in 1988 before the Olympics I made mistakes in the preparation,” he says. “For instance, I did a camp at altitude and travelled to Finland for one day before travelling to the Olympics. It was too many travelling days in a short period.”

Karppinen also reflects on the number of changes that year. His training sessions were five hours of rowing and two hours of running per day. “Now looking back, I feel that was too much and overall the training programme was not suitable,” Karppinen says.

But Karppinen’s favourite memories might just make up for the uncertain ones.

“I think my first Olympic gold was a great race and memory. This was my first multisport event and the atmosphere was amazing,” he says.

And for now, Karppinen says he wants to enjoy life with his family and stay healthy. “It is great to see and follow my little grandchildren and their development.” He also plans to stay involved with rowing and advises everyone just enjoy rowing and racing.

“Also,” Karppinen adds, “I think it is important that rowing is fair and everyone is committed to keeping rowing a clean sport.”