Latynina roots for Phelps to break her record

Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, the most decorated Olympian of all time, will cheer American swimmer Michael Phelps in his bid to break her record at the London Games.

Eurosport

"I wouldn't be bitter if he did," Latynina, now a sprightly 77, told Reuters in an interview. "As they say, records are made to be broken. He is a great champion and a very nice young man.

"If anything, I can only wish him well because I'm a huge admirer of his talent. I just enjoy watching him swim."

Latynina's eyes lit up as she proudly recalled her own triumphs.

"I remember just about everything. Each Olympics was a unique experience in itself, each one had its own things to remember," said Latynina, who competed in Melbourne (1956), Rome (1960) and Tokyo (1964), winning a record 18 medals, nine of them gold.

Phelps, who has 16 medals, 14 of them gold, from his two previous Games, is likely to better Latynina's medal haul in London, where he is due to compete in seven events.

Latynina, who met the American for the first time at a sponsors' event in New York this year, was certain he would overtake her.

"I have no doubt about it. He already has 16 and should win at least three more in London," said the Russian, who plans to attend the 2012 Games as a guest of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).

"If you talk about great athletes, I can't wait to see this guy (Usain) Bolt run in London. He is just something else, out of this world," she said of the Jamaican sprinter.

"Or take Roger Federer for example. Aside from great results one can only marvel at his grace, dignity and style on the tennis court. He is just a great example of a great athlete."

Asked to name the greatest athlete, Latynina paused for a few seconds, taking a deep breath.

"If you want to know the greatest of all time the first thing you look for is how many medals they have won," she said.

"Of course, some would not agree because many athletes just have one chance (in each Olympics) to win a medal -- in boxing or wrestling for example.

"So the medal count itself does not give a true meaning of who is the greatest but at the same time, it gives you a good indication.

"For example, (Soviet figure skater) Irina Rodnina has competed at three Olympics and she has three golds. But I also took part in three Olympics and brought home gold medals from each one. It's hard to judge."

Latynina was quick to point out, however, that she also coached the Soviet women's gymnastics team from 1967 to 1977, helping her charges to win 10 Olympic gold medals along the way.

"I was a head coach of our team at three Olympics and my girls won 10 gold medals," she said.

"I can proudly say that I've played a part in winning 19 Olympic gold medals if you add up my nine with their 10. Phelps has 14 so far, so he has a long way to go to catch me," she added with a smile.

The Ukraine-born gymnast also has 14 world championship medals, nine of them gold.

She won five golds, including the all-around, and one silver from six events at the 1958 world championships in Moscow while she was four months pregnant.

"I didn't tell anyone, not even my personal coach (Alexander Mishakov)," she recalled.

"The coach's wife later teased him: 'What kind of a man are you if you can't tell she was four months pregnant?' In truth, I had to keep quiet about my pregnancy -- if our sports bosses had known about it, they would have never allowed me to compete.

"And how did I do? Well, I won," she said matter-of-factly.

Latynina, who nowadays spends most of her time taking care of her vegetable garden at her dacha outside Moscow and playing with her great-grandchildren, did not think she was much more talented than her rivals.

"If anything, it was probably my desire and a will to win. I had that competitive drive in me," she said. "I never ever liked losing. Simply hated it."

View comments (1)
  • Bell steers England to victory, hosts take 2-1 Ashes lead

    Bell steers England to victory, hosts take 2-1 Ashes lead

    Ian Bell guided England to an eight-wicket victory over Australia in the third test at Edgbaston on Friday to put the hosts 2-1 up in the series with two matches to play. Bell (65 not out) and Joe Root, with an unbeaten 38, anchored the chase after England were set to 121 to win on the third day at Edgbaston where a dominant performance banished memories of a heavy defeat at Lord's. England lost Alastair Cook (7) and Adam Lyth (12) to set a few nerves on edge but Bell, dropped on 20 by Australia captain Michael Clarke, made his second 50 of the match to spark raucous celebrations after Root hit the winning runs. More »

    Reuters - 51 minutes ago
  • Premier League - Rickie Lambert completes West Brom switch from Liverpool

    Premier League - Rickie Lambert completes West Brom switch from Liverpool

    West Brom have completed the signing of Rickie Lambert from Liverpool for an undisclosed fee. More »

    Eurosport - 35 minutes ago
  • Serie A - Confusion as Stevan Jovetic joins Inter

    Serie A - Confusion as Stevan Jovetic joins Inter

    Inter Milan have signed Stevan Jovetic from Manchester City, although there were conflicting reports as to whether it was a loan or permanent switch. More »

    Eurosport - 1 hour 21 minutes ago
  • Can we ever trust Fifa again? Football writer Jonathan Wilson and Copa90's Eli Mengem investigate

    Can we ever trust Fifa again? Football writer Jonathan Wilson and Copa90's Eli Mengem investigate

    Can we ever trust Fifa again? Who replaces Sepp Blatter? These key questions and more are answered on this week's episode of The Rail, as Spencer is joined by football writer Jonathan Wilson and Copa90's Eli Mengem. More »

    Copa90 - 1 hour 17 minutes ago
  • No snow no problem as China's financial might lands 2022 Games

    No snow no problem as China's financial might lands 2022 Games

    The snow will be fake, but the very real financial muscle China boasts proved decisive on Friday when Beijing won the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Games officials meeting in Kuala Lumpur voted for the Chinese capital over the lure of a winter wonderland offering from Kazakhstan's Almaty, in a clear sign that the International Olympic Committee is craving solidity and security after a series of problems and headaches. While Rio scrambles to make up lost time in its building for the 2016 Olympics, and Tokyo is embroiled in a stadium drama the allure of a megacity with a cast-iron financial guarantee proved irresistible. More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 37 minutes ago