Olympic legend Larisa Latynina greeted throngs of reporters Wednesday to talk about her Olympic record that stood for nearly half a century before swimmer Michael Phelps surpassed it on Tueday.
The undisputed queen of an era where ballet ruled over acrobatics, famed former gymnast Larisa Latynina was characteristically graceful as her Olympic record finally fell this week in London.
Latynina, 77, was cheering in the stands at the Aquatics Centre on Tuesday night when American swimmer Michael Phelps won his 19th career medal. Latynina's haul of 18 Olympic medals — won at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics — had stood as the all-time Olympic record for 48 years.
Soviet legend Larisa Latynina won 18 medals over three Olympic Games.
With her trademark smile, a thrilled Latynina greeted throngs of reporters Wednesday to talk about her record that stood for nearly half a century.
"[I] could only be happy to see that there is such a talented athlete who was able to break the record," she said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the 27-year-old Phelps won a silver medal in the 200 meter butterfly, officially tying Latynina's record of 18 medals. The record fell when he swam for the gold medal in the 4 × 200 meter freestyle relay.
Latynina had asked the International Olympic Committee to personally present Phelps with his 19th medal, but was told that IOC regulations would not permit such a moment.
Born Larisa Diriy in the Ukrainian city of Kherson, Latynina was raised by a single mother after her father, Semyon, was killed in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943. She took up ballet first, but switched to gymnastics after her dance teacher moved away.
Latynina won back-to-back titles at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, and nearly won a third in 1964 but was edged by Czechoslovakian legend Vera Caslavska. She won nine gold medals at the world championships from 1954-1962. She was famously four months pregnant at the 1958 World Championships, but won her first of two world all-around titles.
After her retirement, She served as head coach of the Soviet women's team from 1965 to 1977. Latynina, who was inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1998, lives comfortably outside Moscow with her husband Yuri Feldman, a former cycling champion. She is a familiar face at Russian gymnastics competitions, often presenting medals to the young athletes.
Latynina still owns multiple Olympic records and is the only woman to have won nine Olympic golds. She joked with the media that it finally took a man to do what a woman had done first.
Latynina, who met Phelps earlier this year at an event in New York City, had wise words for the swimming star 50 years her junior.
"[I hope] that he doesn't look back into the past at his records, but remains a normal, good, kind person. Because that's the most important thing in life," she said.