Not just anyone can win an Olympic medal never mind win medals in six different Olympiads. Four people have achieved this amazing feat in Olympic history. Although some of them have appeared in the so-called lesser profile Olympic sports, it does not detract from their incredible sporting achievements. Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc, from Rome, is one of these elite four.
She was born in Siret, 26 October 1964, and started rowing at the age of 16, in 1980. Elisabeta competed since 1988 as Elisabeta Lipa. She is one of the few women to have won medals in six separate Olympics in her career; in fact she won something every time she participated. In the year 1992 she made her living working for the Romanian version of the CIA. In 1996 in Atlanta she became the first rower in Olympic history to win a total of six medals, when she helped the Romanian coxed eight to victory. She was chosen as the Romanian flag bearer in 2004 and won Gold in the Eights at the age of 39.
Many would say that athletics and sports are sometimes more a game of fate than a test of endurance, and ‘you win some-you lose some’ but people like Elisabeta disprove this by performing consistently under high pressure – the pressure of their country’s expectations, the pressure they have from within and the pressure of the moment. After her decision to retire (following her last Olympics victory), she said ‘It was my last race (2004) I am very happy because I won five medals in six participation in Olympic games. I dedicate the medal to me.’ She added about her future plans that ‘I am going to rest after putting myself through the last two years of practice.’ Being the persistent champion that she is, with a habit of winning, she has accepted to represent Rome yet another time at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. If she wins gold there she will go down in the record books as the only rower with six Olympic golds.
At the age of 43 she would be the oldest rowing medalist at the Olympics. But this Romanian has an added reason for representing Rome in 2008 – she says ‘I put a condition to the Romanian Government for my presence at the 2008 Olympics – to build an Olympic six-lane waterway in Romania.’ Her influence is such at her country that her appeals definitely will not go unheard by the government of Rome. The president of Romania personally came down to watch her eight at Athens, and met the crew to congratulate them after their win (after the first round). This is an obvious self less gesture to help her younger colleagues gain maximum experience for future Olympic games She currently is titled ‘the most medaled rower in Olympic history.’ A competing rower Ester Workel from Netherlands, commented once (on rowing alongside Elisabeta), ‘when going into the race and knowing and knowing you are racing against her it gives you an added impulse.’ That’s a great reputation for a competitor in any field, to hold – the respect of members from your competing teams.
Rowing came into this superstar’s life at the age of 14, in 1979, when a recruiter visited her school at her hometown Botoshani. This person obviously saw the potential in young Elisabeta and in three weeks she was training in Bucharest at the Olympic Rowing Centre. Before the age of 20 she had bagged her first Olympic gold and three other world Championship medals (including a gold in one of them).
Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc is well known for her retirements! She announced retirement for the first time in 1996, after Atlanta, and did not compete for 3 years in fact. In early 200, she made her come back just in time to be part of the wining eight at Sydney (gold). Once again she retired after these Olympic games, only to make another comeback in 2003 to help her country qualify for the Athens Olympics. As history would have it, she’s set her sights on the 2008 Beijing Games, where we will see her lead Romania’s eight into perhaps another winning Olympic performance.
Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc has proved to the world that training and fitness are the key elements that make a champion out of a sportsman, and has been a fitting role model for her colleagues in the Roman Eight, and for many aspirants around the world. We hope to see her win many more championships.