Larisa Latynina on the floor
Larisa Latynina

Born: December 23, 1934

Country: Soviet Union

By the time the world war ended in 1945, Larisa had lost both her parents. She was 11 years old and aspiring to be a ballet dancer. Standard ballet training at that time involved exercises with hoops and balls. Larisa proved so talented in them that her teachers redirected her towards gymnastics, the sport that would define her.

Her first major competition was the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Latynina was part of a Soviet team that swept the gymnastic competition in those games and that was the beginning of the dominance of Soviet Union in gymnastics, which lasted 40 years. Larisa won six medals in those games, four of them were gold. Latynina became the first gymnast to achieve celebrity status on an international level, thanks to her outstanding performance.

In the next two Olympic Games, Larisa added twelve more medals to her tally which included five gold medals. Larisa Latynina became the first woman to win 9 Olympic gold medals and is still the only female athlete to do so. Her total tally of 18 Olympic medals was the most medals won by any athlete till Michael Phelps broke the record at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

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