Latynina, Larissa (1934—)

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Latynina, Larissa (1934—)

Russian gymnast who won 17 Olympic gold medals. Born Larissa Semyonovna Latynina in the USSR on December 27, 1934; married with two children.

Won World championship in the combined (1958, 1962), in the balance beam (1958), in the horse vault (1958), for the floor exercises (1962); won Olympic gold medals in the individual all-around (1956, 1960), in the horse vault (1956), for the floor exercises (1956 [tied with Ágnes Keleti], 1960, 1964); won Olympic team gold (1956, 1960, 1964); won thesilver in the individual all-around (1964); won the silver in the balance beam (1960) and the bronze (1964); won the silver in the uneven bars (1956, 1960) and the bronze (1964); won the silver in the horse vault (1964) and the bronze (1960).

Larissa Latynina, perhaps the greatest gymnast of them all, held the women's record for both individual and total world championship titles. Between 1956 and 1964, she won ten individual championships and five team titles. In the Olympics, Latynina accumulated six individual gold, three team gold, four silver, and four bronze medals. Her total of 17 Olympic medals topped any Olympian—male or female—in any sport. She was also the only gymnast in the world to have won medals in every event on the program in two Olympics. During these years, she also married and given birth to two children.

In the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, 22-year-old Latynina went head-to-head with 35-year-old Ágnes Keleti of Hungary. That year, Keleti ended her Olympic career with three golds and two silver medals while Latynina began hers with four golds and one silver. In the floor exercises, the two tied for the gold medal (causing some to miscalculate Latynina's medal total, an erroneous 18). Four years later in Rome, Soviet gymnasts topped all rivals. The women won every event except the balance beam, and Larissa Latynina led the pack with three golds, two silvers, and a bronze. Her total domination of the sport was not halted until the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, with the arrival of Vera Caslavska . Even so, Latynina added two golds, two silver and two bronzes to her total.

The intricacy of her routines and her technical brilliance revolutionized women's gymnastics. But the world had not yet begun to pay heed to the sport, making Larissa Latynina a relative unknown outside the Soviet Union. Upon her retirement, she became a coach for the Soviet national team.