- 29 Aug 2004
- Athens 2004
Forty-something Fischer makes history again
German kayaker Birgit Fischer brought down her incredible Olympic career in a blaze of glory in Athens. She had made her Olympic debut way back in 1980, at the age of 18, when she competed for East Germany and won a gold medal in the 500m singles. Almost quarter of a century later, the German star was still in the mix for gold, in the kayak doubles and the four.
Fischer may have been 42 now, but her reputation remained undiminished. In 11 previous Olympic events, spread over five separate Games, she had won seven gold medals and three silvers. Only once had she failed to finish in the top two, and that was back at Atlanta 1996. She was not in Athens to make up the numbers.
First up was the women's fours, in which Hungary were many people's favourites to take gold. In the heats, though, Fischer's German team beat them, along with Ukraine and Poland. The stage looked set for a highly competitive final.
In the end it was a two-way battle between the two favourites, with Hungary and Germany pushing each other all the way to the finishing line as Ukraine and Poland battled it out for bronze. As the front two crossed the finishing line, there was just a sliver in it – but it was Germany who crossed first.
Fischer had made history. Having become her sport's youngest Olympic champion 24 years earlier, she was now the oldest. She was also the first woman to win gold medals at six different Olympic Games, the first woman to win titles 24 years apart and the first person of either gender to win two medals or more at five separate editions of the Games.
Despite all the adulation and celebration that followed, Fischer managed to keep her calm and recover her stamina for the doubles final the following day. Once again, it turned into a battle between Hungarian and German crews, but this time it was the Hungarians who took gold with Fischer and partner Carolin Leonhardt having to make do with silver. Her final podium meant that Fischer finished her astonishing Olympic career with 12 medals.