At the age of nineteen, she debuted at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, where she teamed with Marioara Popescu to win the double sculls final. In 1988, she earned a silver medal in the same event, this time with Veronica Cogeanu as her partner. Lipa and Cogeanu also won bronze medals in the quadruple sculls without coxswain. In 1992, Lipa, who made her living working for the Romanian equivalent of the CIA, and Cogeanu (now known as Veronica Cochela) repeated their second place finish in the double sculls. The next day, Lipa led the single sculls from start to finish to earn her second career gold medal.
At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, she placed ninth in the single sculls, but then won another gold medal as a member of Romania's coxed eight with coxswain crew. With this race, she became the first rower in Olympic history to win six medals. Lipa competed in her fifth edition of the Games in 2000 at the age of 35. At the Games in Sydney she helped Romania defend its title in the eights, thus becoming the oldest oarswoman to win a gold medal in the eight with coxswain event at the Olympic Games.
Lipa holds the rowing record for most Olympic medals won (7) and she and Steve Redgrave share the record for most years between gold medals (16). At the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, Elisabeta Lipa again won the gold medal in the Eights. Through this performance, she became the only woman to hold five gold medals at five editions of the Olympic Games (84, 92, 96, 00, 04).