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05 Aug 1984
Los Angeles 1984

Karppinen completes sculling hat-trick

Few rivalries in the history of the Olympic Games illustrate the fine line between greatness and merely being great than that of Finn Pertti Karppinen and Germany’s Peter Michael Kolbe.

Kolbe was an outstanding rower with an explosive start and incredible commitment to his sport. He won three Olympic silver medals at different Games but his achievements will unfortunately always play second fiddle to Karppinen.

The Finn was a giant of a man. At 2.01m he barely looked like he could fit in a sculling boat never mind propel one with phenomenal endurance and skill.

He burst onto the international scene at the age of just 23 when he took the gold medal ahead of Kolbe at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

With Kolbe absent due to the boycott in Moscow four years later, Karppinen was again triumphant, winning by over two seconds.

When the two qualified with ease for the final in Los Angeles four years later, the crowds at the packed Lake Casitas venue were expecting a close battle.

It was certainly a two-horse race as they surged well clear of the field at the 1500m marker. Kolbe held a half-boat length lead and looked in pole position to claim his first gold and break Karppinen’s stranglehold on the top step of the podium.

But Karppinen looked across at Kolbe and seemed to cut down the lead with almost cruel focus, after each stroke checking the narrowing deficit with a cool stare across the water.

By the time Karppinen drew level with around 100m to go, Kolbe was spent. He had used all his effort in carving open a lead which he hoped he could sustain until the end.

Karpinnen crossed the line just half a boat length clear, with Kolbe slumping his head into his hands as his extraordinary exertion was only good enough for second best again.

The Finn would finish out of the medal placings at the 1988 Games in Seoul and Barcelona in 1992, but he could boast the honour of being only the second rower to win the singles sculls at three Olympics in a row.

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