Nine-times Olympic gymnastics champion, legendary Larisa Latynina is 80Sport
Soviet and Russian sports legend Larisa Latynina, who has nine Olympic golds in women’s gymnastics to her credit, is 80 today. She will celebrate the jubilee at a gymnastics sports school in the city of Obninsk, 100 kilometres southwest of Moscow.
“I will mark the occasion in Obninsk, the Kaluga Region, at a sports school that bears my name,” Latynina told TASS. “I’ve been hinted the kids there have staged a real fairy tale show for me as a New Year and birthday gift and I would love to see it. And the next day I will spend celebrating with relatives and friends.”
Latynina was born on December 1934 in the city of Kherson, Ukraine. She won her first gold medals in 1953, at competitions accompanying the World Festival of Youth and Students in Bucharest. In 1954, at the world championships in Rome Latynina won her first world title in the team competition.
Latynina was the absolute Olympic champion in 1956 and 1960. She also won the gold in the team contest at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics. All in all she has nine golds, five silvers and four bronzes won at three Olympic Games in a row.
“Should you ask me which of the Olympic gold medals is the dearest to me, I will possibly stumble in confusion,” says Latynina. “Indeed, the 1956 Games in Australia’s Melbourne were my first. Those medals are as precious as the first child. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome I performed after having a daughter. Those medals are extremely valuable to me as well. And I went to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo well aware that they were going to be my last. The award I won in Japan is also priceless.”
Latynina recalls that the victories attained by Soviet athletes at high profile world competitions in those years held a very special value for the Soviet people, whose memories of terrible war years were still fresh.
“I shall never forget the hearty welcome we enjoyed at home after the Melbourne Olympics,” Latynina said. “From Australia we travelled back home aboard a luxurious cruise ship, which took us to Vladivostok. There we boarded a train for a long eight-day journey across the nation. The train made many stops on the way and at every station we saw large crowds of greeting us. Lastly, when we stepped out of the railway building in Moscow we saw the nearby square crammed with joyful supporters, many of them holding flowers - something very rare those days in Moscow in wintertime.
When her sports career was over, Latynina took command of the Soviet women’s gymnastics team to have spent three Olympic cycles at the helm.
“My trainees won three successive Olympics: in 1968, 1972 and 1976,” Latynina recalls. And at several Olympics that followed Soviet women gymnasts held a firm foothold, too. In our sport experience and skill were passed on from generation to generation.”
“As for Russia’s current gymnastics team, I am greatly surprised to hear some coaches blame their failures on the circumstances, the lack of worthy trainees born in the depressive 1990s,” Latynina said. “The harm our country suffered from World War II was immeasurably greater, but that did not affect our sports that badly.”
“About our national team I can say that all are charming, beautiful, slender young ladies,” Latynina said. “I am literally enchanted by Aliya Mustafina. She is so beautiful and has a very strong character of a real athlete. Time is ripe for her to win again and again! I do believe that Aliya will promptly cope with all of her problems and start winning again. For this she should excel in the gym and take care of her health.”
By the number of Olympic medals Latynina is second only to US swimmer Michael Phelps, with his 18 gold, two silver and two bronze awards.