Over the years, Russia has had legend gymnasts who seem to defy gravity and make landings with utmost grace. One such gymnast is Larisa Latynina, born in 1934; she took home 18 Olympic medals between 1956 and 1964. She went down in history as the first woman to win nine gold medals in Olympic history, and she ushered in an era of Russians dominating the sport.
From Humble Beginning to the World Stage
At 11, she began taking ballet classes with aspirations of being a dancer. As part of the ballet training of the time, she had to undertake occasional gymnastic exercises. Her teachers saw her talent and redirected her towards gymnastics. At 16, she won the National Schools Gymnastics Championships and graduated in 1953 from high school. A year later, she was part of the USSR Olympics Team in Rome, Italy.
In the 1956 games held in Melbourne Australia, she won six medals, four of them Gold. Her winning streak continued where she won Gold in every event in the 1957 European Gymnastics Championships and won in every event in 1958 except for the vault while five months pregnant. She sat out the 1959 games but returned for the 1960 Summer Olympics to win six medals, three Gold, two Silver, and one Bronze. By this time, she was awarded prestigious civilian awards from the USSR government including the Soviet Badge of Honor and Order of Lenin.
In the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, she won Gold, four Silver medals and one Bronze in the 1965 European Championships, she finished 11th in the 1966 games and retired from the games. She expressed gratitude but never pride, and this made her a remarkable gymnast and person. Whenever she won, she deflected the praise and spoke of the pride she felt for her country. She was the ideal Olympic representative.