Friday, August 17, 2012
I don’t think there is any doubt that Michael Phelps is a truly great athlete. With his metal wins in London this year, he has become the most decorated Olympian in history to date. This title has been unchallenged for over 48 years.
With this great honor, the name Larisa Latynina was mentioned often. She, until this summer, she was the most decorated Olympian in history. This made me wonder, who is Larisa Latynia, and what were her medals in?
Latynina was a gymnast for the Soviet Union, which makes this metal count even more impressive in my mind. I couldn’t even get past the first year in gymnastics; something about swinging on bars didn’t really sit well with 5-year-old me. But I digress... Born in Ukraine, Laynia began her career in ballet. At the age of 19 she moved to Kiev for college and continue her training. After debuting in 1954, she went to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne to win gold in all around, team, floor and vault, a silver on uneven bars and bronze in the now discontinued portable apparatus.
At the 1960 World Championships, Latynina was four months pregnant. But she still won five out of six titles which is really impressive. In the 1960 Olympics in Rome, she won gold in all around, team, and floor, took silver in balance beam and uneven bars, and bronze in vault.
In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Latynina won gold in the team event and floor event, silver in all around and vault, and two bronze metals in bars and balance beam. There is the tally to 18 – unbelievable, especially in gymnastics!
Asked what she thought of Michael Phelps winning more metals, she commented that the metals she won for the Soviet Union also should count. She did coach for the Soviet Union gymnastics teams from her retirement in 1966 through 1977, and the team won gold in 1968, 1972 and 1976. This woman was another truly gifted athlete.