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18 days to Rio: The greatest female Olympian

18th July, 2016
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With 18 days to go until the Rio Games get underway, we look back on one of the most remarkable achievements in Olympic history: Larisa Latynina’s 18 medals.

Latynina’s life had been thrown into chaos by World War II. Growing up in the Soviet Union, she was left an orphan aged 11 after the War claimed the lives of both her parents.

» VIEW THE OLYMPIC MEDAL TALLY

However, that hardship gave way to sporting success not long after. By the time she was sixteen, Latynina had won the national schools gymnastics championship, and an appearance at the 1954 world championships paved the way to an Olympic debut in Melbourne two years later.

Those 1956 Olympics heralded the start of a truly dominant career in gymnastics. Latynina won six medals – including four golds – as the Soviet Union topped the medal count.

Despite the birth of her daughter Tanya in 1958, which forced Latynina out of the European Championships the following year (she had, however, competed five months into her pregnancy earlier in ’59), the Rome Olympics in 1960 were another resounding success.

Latynina claimed another six medals, this time three of them gold. Four years later, the Tokyo Games provided yet another six, although the number of golds again dropped, this time to two.

Tokyo would be Latynina’s final Olympics, and her legacy was astounding. Her tally of 18 medals was the highest ever by a single athlete, and only Paavo Nurmi had matched her nine golds.

It wasn’t until the 2012 Olympics in London that Latynina’s record was finally broken by Michael Phelps. Latynina was at the Games, hoping to present Phelps with his 19th medal, but the International Olympic Committee wouldn’t allow it.

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Latynina was still there to watch from the sidelines and was full of admiration for Phelps.

“Phelps deserves the record,” she said through an interpreter. “He is such a talented sportsman.”

She did, however, add one small, and thoroughly deserved, caveat.

“Among women, I’m sure I will stay No. 1 for a long time.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian