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Larisa Latynina

The Summer Olympic Games have hosted the world's finest professional athletes in competitions measuring their determination, strength, endurance, stamina, and willpower to exert everything they have for themselves, their team, and their country. Larisa Latynina, a shining example for future Olympians, demonstrated an awe-inspiring willpower to achieve what most people only daydream about in their spare time. She excelled far beyond achieving the athletic dream of winning a single Olympic gold medal. In fact, she won nine and set the course for the Soviet Union's dominance in gymnastics. In addition, Larisa Latynina also set the record for the most individual medals, discounting the medals she possesses from team events, in Olympic history.

Larisa Latynina's defining moment came with her outstanding performance in the all-around event against Agnes Keleti, a Hungarian gymnast, at the 1956 Summer Olympics. Larisa defeated Keleti at the all-around event, and won several gold medals on the floor and vault. She won the silver medal on the uneven bars, and a bronze medal on the portable apparatus. Conversely, Keleti won four gold and two silver medals, which made her a fierce competitor of Larisa's caliber. Larisa continued her stride at the World Championships in 1958, where she won five titles while four months pregnant. Latynina was voted the favorite of the 1960 Summer Olympics hosted in Rome, Italy, where she led the Soviet team to a win by an expansive margin of nine points. Larisa defended her floor title, seized silver medals on the balance beam and uneven bar events, and won the bronze medal by participating in the vault competition.

During the 1962 World Championship, Latynina secured the all-around titles. She humbly met and defeated Vera Caslavska, an accomplished Czechoslovakian gymnast. Latynina met her fate at the 1964 Summer Olympic Games, where she finally lost to Caslavska in the all-around event; however, Latynina secured two more gold medals, which helped the Soviets win the team event. She won the floor event for the third time in a row. Latynina won a medal in every competitive event, except in the 1954 balance beam competition. In fact, Latynina held the Olympic record of thirteen gold medals until 2008, when Michael Phelps beat her record by winning fourteen. Latynina is the only female gymnast to win an all-around medal in two different Olympiads. She is also the only woman to have won an individual event in more than two different Olympiads. The International Olympic Committee rewarded her with the Olympic Order silver medal in 1989. Latynina entered the International Gymnastic Hall of Fame as an inductee in 1998.

Follow these links to learn more about the famous Soviet Union (USSR) gymnast, Larisa Latynina, and how she helped her team gain dominance in the world of gymnastics: