Larisa Latynina (Gymnast/Olympic Medalist)
She holds 18 total medals, second most won by a competitor in any sport at the Olympics.
Latynina held the record for most Olympic medals overall for many decades before being surpassed by US swimmer Michael Phelps in 2012. She was responsible for establishing the Soviet Union as the dominant force in gymnastics.
She also holds the record for most individual medals (14 outside of team events) in Olympic history.
Born Larisa Semyonovna Diriy she first practiced ballet, but turned to gymnastics after her choreographer moved out of town. She graduated from high school in 1953 and moved to Kiev to attend the Lenin Polytechnic Institute and continue training. There Latynina trained at the Burevestnik Voluntary Sports Society.
At the age of 19, she debuted internationally at the 1954 Rome World Championships, winning the gold medal in the team competition.
At the 1956 Summer Olympics, she competed with Ágnes Keleti of Hungary to become the most successful gymnast of the Olympics. Latynina beat Keleti in the all-around event, and the Soviet team also won the team event. In the event finals, Latynina won gold medals on the floor (shared with Keleti) and vault, a silver medal on the uneven bars, and a bronze medal in the now discontinued team event with portable apparatus. Keleti also won six medals: four golds and two silvers.
After a very successful World Championships in 1958 (winning five out of six titles despite competing whilst four months pregnant), Latynina was the favorite for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. In the all-around event she led the Soviet Union to take the first four places, thereby also securing a win in the team competition by a margin of nine points. Latynina also successfully defended her floor title, took silver medals in the balance beam and uneven bars events, and bronze in the vault competition.
Latynina won all-around titles at the 1962 World Championships, beating Věra Čáslavská of Czechoslovakia. Still the defending World Champion at the 1964 Summer Olympics, she was beaten by Čáslavská in the all-around competition. Latynina did however add two more gold medals to her tally, winning the team event and the floor event both for the third time in a row. A silver medal and two bronzes in the other apparatus events brought her total of Olympic medals to eighteen — nine gold medals, five silver and four bronze. She won a medal in every event in which she competed, except for the 1956 balance beam where she came fourth.
Her nine gold medals makes her second on the list of most Olympic gold medalists together with Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis and Paavo Nurmi, only behind Michael Phelps, who has 15; she held the distinction of having more Olympic gold medals (either individually or with a team) than anybody ever, from 1964 to 2008, until Michael Phelps beat her record. She is the only woman to have won nine gold medals.
She is also the only female athlete who at some point has held the record for most Olympic gold medals.
Additionally, within the sport of gymnastics, she is the only woman who has won an all-around medal in more than two Olympiads and the only woman who has won an individual event (Floor Exercise) in more than two Olympiads (1956, 1960, and 1964 for both of those accomplishments), one of only three women who have won every individual event at either the world or olympic level in every individual event, and she holds many other such distinguishing records.
Latynina retired after the 1966 World Championships and became a coach for the Soviet national gymnastics team, a position she held until 1977. Under her the Soviet women won team gold in the 1968, 1972 and 1976 Olympics.
She organized the gymnastics competition at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, and around the year 2000 appeared in the "Soviet Sports Wars" episode of the PBS documentary The Red Files, discussing her experiences as a gymnast and Soviet coach.
She is a citizen of Russia, and lives in her estate near the town Semenovskoye, Moscow region.