Unrivalled Birgit Fischer’s Remarkable Gold Medal Run | The Olympics On The Record

Unrivalled Birgit Fischer’s Remarkable Gold Medal Run | The Olympics On The Record


A gold medal. Only about 6,000
have ever been awarded. To give you some perspective
on that figure, every gold medal could have its
own room on this cruise liner. So it’s a rare achievement. Rarer still are those Olympians who have won multiple gold
medals. There are an unbelievable
367 competitors who have taken home
three or more gold medals. Each of them could find a seat
on this plane. There is, however, one group of Olympians so
special they could fit into one car: athletes who’ve won gold at
five separate Olympic Games. They are Hungarian fencer
Aladar Gerevich, German equestrian
Reiner Klimke, plus two rowers,
Romanian Elisabeta Lipa and Britain’s Steven Redgrave, and driving that car would be
Germany’s Birgit Fischer, whose story truly epitomises
the Olympic ideal. Hey, are we taking part
by watching? Yes, we are. That makes us special, then! Fischer is a German kayaker. I say “is” rather than “was”
because with her story, you can’t guarantee
she won’t come back for more! Born in Brandenberg, East
Germany, in 1962, young Birgit took to the water when she was only six
and she quickly flourished. By the time she entered
her first Olympic Games, at just 18 years old, she had
already won two world titles. At the Moscow Olympic Games in
1980, her first-ever Olympic event
was the K1 500 metres. K means Kayak, 1 means one
person and 500 metres means it’s a
sprint! Despite being the youngest
in the field, Fischer won with relative ease
and took her first gold medal. Fischer was unable to defend
her title in 1984 but she was back
for Seoul in 1988, taking two golds in the K2 and
K4 500-metre races. Believe it or not,
that could have been that. Fischer thought that three
gold medals and a silver from two Olympics were
a decent return for her career. She had two young children at
home and decided to retire
from the sport. She wasn’t going to be gone
for long. She was back in time for the
next games, Barcelona in 1992. Her medal tally
improved further here, taking gold in the K1
and silver in the K4. All thoughts of retirement
were dismissed. Atlanta 1996 brought another
gold-silver combo, first in the K4
and second in the K2. And she followed that up at
Sydney in 2000 with two more gold medals
in the K2 and K4. She had joined that
very small elite group. Over five Olympics she had won
an incredible seven gold medals and three silvers. Now 38, it was finally time
to call it a day. Fischer had cemented her place as one of the very greatest
athletes in Olympic history, and could
hang up her oar and relax with her family, content that there was no more
she could have done. A hero in Germany, and christened “Supermum” by
the press, she went about living
as normal a life as you can when you’ve had such a famous
and extraordinary career. Fischer would still regularly
feature in magazines and on TV shows, and in 2003 a company wanted to
make a documentary about her life. An honour indeed. The film crew asked Fischer
to sit in her kayak for a shot. It was the first time she had
done so since the Sydney Olympics, and it hit her like a
thunderbolt. A wave of competitiveness
flowed through her and her mind immediately
switched to the 2004 Olympic Games in
Athens, just nine months away. After three years away, just
qualifying was an achievement but that would never do for
Fischer. She was targeting gold. She shed seven kilos and
quickly got back to her former sharpness. It turns out that kayaking
is a lot like riding a bike, on water, with your hands. Basically, you never forget! She of course qualified and
took to the water for the K4, her team tackling
the world champion Hungarians. Having started her first race
in 1980 as the youngest in the field, here she was at 42,
the oldest competitor. The German team
stormed to the title, giving Fischer
yet another gold medal. Her medal collection
would swell further when she took silver in the K2. Now it really was time to
retire. Over 24 years
and across six Olympic Games, Fischer had amassed
eight gold medals. That makes Fischer the second most-decorated
female Olympian ever and the most successful
kayaker of all time, which isn’t a bad result for
someone who first wanted
to call it a day all the way back in 1988. That’s the problem with being
a winner. It’s addictive.

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