15 Apr 2015
Over the course of three glorious decades, German kayaker Birgit Fischer put together the finest career her sport has ever seen. Eight times a gold medallist at the six Games in which she appeared, Fischer regards Barcelona 1992 as the pinnacle of her Olympic odyssey.
When she began her brilliant Olympic career at Moscow 1980, Birgit Fischer raced in the colours of the German Democratic Republic. By the time she took her final bow at Athens 2004, she had been representing a reunited Germany for 14 years.
Between her debut and her swansong, she became the most successful kayaker the Olympic Games have ever seen and her total of 12 medals (eight golds and four silvers) amassed across six editions makes her the second most prolific female Olympian of all time; her medal haul has only been bettered by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, who won 18.
In all probability, Fischer would have added further to her remarkable total had the GDR not boycotted Los Angeles 1984. The German also has the distinction of being the youngest and the oldest of all Olympic kayaking champions, pocketing her Moscow 1980 gold at the age of 18 and repeating the feat in Athens at the grand old age of 42.
The Potsdam paddler was virtually unbeatable over 500m, no matter what the event, winning individual gold in the K-1 in 1980 and 1992, teaming up with Anke Nothnagel in 1988 and Katrin Wagner in 2000 to triumph in the K-2, and also collecting a quartet of titles in the K-4 in 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2004.
Not once but twice Fischer retired only to make a comeback, firstly after the Seoul Games in 1988 and then in the wake of Sydney 2000. On each occasion she returned to the water to strike gold yet again. In addition to her Olympic domination, the German star also towered over the ICF World Championships, amassing 38 medals between 1978 and 2005, 28 of them golds.
In this exclusive video interview for our “Word of Olympians” series, Fischer tries to recall the most memorable of all her golden Olympic appearances: “When you’ve been in as many Games as I have - six in all - it’s pretty hard to pick out one moment in particular.” In the end she opts for Barcelona 1992. While they were not her most successful Games, they stick in her mind as the “most enjoyable”, taking place as they did in a “perfect”, sunlit location by the sea, and marking her majestic return to the top of her sport after a three-year absence.