The 1991 FISA World Cup at Hjelmsjön, Sweden

An old image of Hjelmsjön.

1 May 2019

By Göran R Buckhorn

No, no, FISA is not spreading ‘fake news’ in their latest press release about the bidders for the upcoming World and European Rowing events, but they are wrong about Sweden’s Lake Hjelmsjön never being the host for a World Rowing event, Göran R Buckhorn writes. Göran remembers, since he was there.

In a press release the other day, World Rowing, FISA, writes about a new process which offers ‘a more strategic and long-term approach to attributing FISA events’. In late 2017, the organisation launched the so-called Strategic Event Attribution Process (SEAP). SEAP allows, ‘interested parties to indicate all of the FISA-owned events between 2021 and 2028 that they believe would support their long-term events strategy,’ FISA writes. The press release goes on to say

There are 36 events open to bidding for the period spanning 2021 to 2026, including the 2023, 2025 and 2026 World Rowing Championships. For the 2021 to 2024 period, bids are invited for the junior and under-23 World Rowing Championships, three World Rowing Cup series regattas per year and the World Rowing Masters Regatta. In addition to the World Rowing events, FISA owns the European Championships at the senior, under-23 and junior level and these events for the 2021 to 2024 period are also open for bidding.

On the date to get in the preliminary bids, 15 April, 21 FISA member nations have submitted bids for 31 rowing events. Amongst the rowing venues are the regular ones: Lucerne, Bled, Poznan, Plovdiv and Belgrade. There are also some venues which have not hosted FISA events for quite some time, Zagreb, Brive and Villach. There are even three courses where Olympic regattas have been held, Munich, Montreal and Banyoles; last time one of these venues, Munich, organised a World Rowing event was in 2012. ‘There is also a possibility that Penrith, the Sydney 2000 Olympic venue will bid,’ FISA mentions in its press release.

FISA also mentions three ’new venues’ that have put in bids for an event, Kazan in Russia, Pretoria in South Africa and Hjelmsjön in Sweden. And if they are successful in their bids, it will be the first time these venues organise a World Rowing event, FISA writes.

Not so, FISA! At least not for lake Hjelmsjön in the south of Sweden.

The first time there was a FISA event in Sweden was in July 1984 when the Swedes organised FISA’s 7th Junior Championships in the town of Jönköping. My rowing coach, Tore Persson, whom I wrote about on 19 April when he rowed for Kirk Douglas, went to Jönköping where he drove around FISA President Thomi Keller in a launch on lake Munksjön during the regatta.

Talking about Jönköping, the European Universities Rowing Championships will be held there on 4-7 September 2019 – and it’s not a FISA event.

Between 1990 and 1995, FISA organised a World Cup for single scullers. The athletes competing received points and after each season’s total ranking, the top scullers received cash prizes. The World Cup regattas were a way for FISA to market the sport of rowing and try to increase sponsorship and presence of TV and media. One of the largest regattas in the Nordic countries at this time was the Scandinavian Open, which welcomed not only Nordic crews but also crews from Europe and beyond. The organisers from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden had arranged with FISA that one of the World Cup events should be included in each year’s Scandinavian Open regatta. In 1991, the Scandinavian Open and World Cup were going to be held in Sweden, on lake Hjemsjön in the small village of Örkelljunga.

Hjelmsjön from above.

As one of the editors of the Swedish rowing magazine, I suddenly found myself appointed the Press Officer for the regatta by Regatta General Tore Persson. However, before the regatta began on 31 May 1991, I was also to act as an all-around guy. Therefore, I was not surprised when one of the ladies at the Swedish Rowing Federation called me one evening a couple of days prior to the regatta informing me that I was to meet up with one of the top international scullers in Malmö and drive her to the regatta in Örkelljunga. I asked who she was? Elisabeta Lipă, came the answer.

I knew that Lipă was an Olympic champion at this time and a World Champion and had a heap of other rowing medals hanging on her wall in her home in Romania. ‘What languages does she speak?’ I asked the Swedish Rowing Federation lady at the other end of the phone. ‘Well, according to the information I have,’ came the answer, ‘she speaks Romanian and French.’ ‘Okay, good,’ I said, ‘I will brush up my school French.’

Elisabeta Lipă. © Peter SPURRIER/Intersport Images.

At noon the next day, I was standing by the bus stop outside the Railway Station in Malmö waiting for the bus from Copenhagen airport. At this time, there was no bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen, so you had to take a bus from the airport which then roll onto a ferry which crossed the Öresund Strait, and then drive to the Railway Station.

I had practiced my school French the evening before: ‘Welcome to Sweden. My name is Göran and I will drive you to the regatta’ – and so on…

But what does Lipă look like, I thought, while I was standing there at the bus stop. I needed not to worry. When the bus stopped and the travellers flooded out from the bus, there was one person a head taller than the rest. I waved while I approached Lipă, who looked down on me. I smiled, reached out my hand and said in my best French, which I thought would have made my old French teacher proud: ‘Bienvenue en Suède. Je m’appelle Göran et je vais vous conduire à la régate.’ [Big smile from me!]

Lipă looked a little concerned. I tried again, ‘Bienvenue en Suède. Je m’appe…’ Lipă lifted her hand and said, ‘No, no….’ She pointed at herself. ‘Română, rusă’ and then in another language, that sounded like ‘rumynskiy, russkiy’ – Romanian, Russian. She smiled. I smiled back. I pointed towards my car, which was parked across the street from the bus stop. I put her large bag in the boot. When Lipă sat down in the passenger seat in my small, mustard yellow-coloured, German car, she had to step out again, so I could adjust the seat, trying to push it as far back as possible. She sat down on the passenger seat again – she still sat with her knees up to her ears…

I smiled nervously and shrugged my shoulders. Lipă smiled back. It was going to be a long drive up to Hjelmsjön. When we passed my rowing club in Malmö before we were on the motorway, I pointed towards the club house while I with one hand did a circling motion like pulling on an oar. Then I pointed at me. Lipă nodded.

Well on the motorway, I tried to get a doomed conversation started despite not knowing any Romanian or Russian. I don’t know why, but I said, ‘Ceaușescu’. Lipă looked at me. ‘Ceaușescu, bad,’ she said. Now I nodded. One and a half year earlier, the Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife had been put in front of a wall and executed by some soldiers after a ‘show trial’. The video of the killings had run on every European TV channel for days just after Christmas 1989. I had run out of topics to discuss.

In total silence we drove for an hour to Lipă’s motel, close to the regatta course. We parted by shaking hands at the motel. Before I left, Lipă started digging in her large bag. She fished out a Romanian doll in a folk costume and handed it to me. I smiled and shook her hand again.

At the Scandinavian Open/FISA World Cup at Hjelmsjön, Elisabeta Lipă won the A final in the women’s single sculls race, followed by Silken Laumann, of Canada, and Maria Brandin, of Sweden, in third place. Thomas Lange, of Germany, won the men’s race by just squeezing by Vaclav Chalupa, of Czechoslovakia. The bronze medal went to Jesus Posse, of Uruguay. (There is a special anecdote about the Uruguayan sculler, too, but that has to wait for another time.)

Lipă would continue to take medals. She took a total of five Olympic gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze at six Olympic Games. Not even Sir Steve has managed to do that. She also holds another record among rowers, as it’s 20 years between her first and last Olympic gold medal, 1984 to 2004.

In 2008, Lipă received the Thomas Keller Medal.

Since November 2015, Lipă is the Romanian Minister of Youth and Sport.

Lipă’s doll is now standing in the prize cabinet at Malmö Roddklubb. I think few people know where it comes from.


  1. Brilliant! It is personal anecdotes such as the above that make HTBS what it is. The go to , early morning, source of rowing nostalgia. Can’t wait for the one about Jesus !

  2. I agree. A lovely story! I have to go down to Malmö RC to make sure that doll is still around. Göran, one of my first rowing coaches, who also introduced me to Hjelmsjön, – gratefully you never run out of stories!

  3. And thank you, Linda. There was always a lot of work at Hjelmsjön, whether it was a regatta or a training camp. But what a wonderful place, especially during the summer evenings when the lake was calm. Good memories!

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