It's Happening: Larisa Latynina, a Golden Girl of the Olympic Games
No doubt, a half century ago when Larisa Latynina was out about her town of Kiev in Ukraine, her hometown residents were just as thrilled at her sightings.
Her achievements came with much hard work. Although her future was golden, she didn’t grow up fed with a proverbial silver spoon. The name on her 1934 birth certificate was Larisa Diriy. Her dad left her family before her first birthday and he later died in battle. Her childhood was further challenged by the reign of Stalin and the invasion of Hitler. Her first love was ballet, but as circumstance would have it, she moved on to gymnastics. After high school graduation, went on to train full-time.
At the age of 19, she debuted internationally at the 1954 Rome World Championships, winning the gold medal in the team competition. And the last six of her career 18 gold medals were earned at the 1964 Tokyo Games. Yeah, do the math. She was almost 30 years old - with a 6-year-old daughter, to boot. She had competed at the 1958 world championships in Moscow while she was four months pregnant. And won.
Phelps surpassed her total number of Olympic medals, but Latynina is still in good company – tied with Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis and Paavo Nurmi with nine golds, second only to Phelps.
It is said that most of her medals are still in her possession at her home near Moscow, where she is now a champion vegetable gardener. She has many memories to nurture, including years of coaching the Soviet women’s gymnastics team - which won team gold in 1968, 1972 and 1976. You might remember the latter group. Do the names Nellie Kim or Olga Korbut ring a bell?
The XXX London Olympic Summer Games have had us enthralled with excitement, suspense and American pride. It’s also been a fantastic story-telling venue – a golden opportunity to bring past feats to the spotlight – some which happened at a time when the media wasn’t quite the world power that it is now.