Russian record-holder says she's happy for Phelps

Associated Press Modified: August 1, 2012 at 10:07 am •  Published: August 1, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) — The gymnast whose career record for most Olympic medals was broken by Michael Phelps says she doesn't mind that the American swimmer has surpassed her mark.

Larisa Latynina, who won 18 medals in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics while competing for the Soviet Union, was at the Aquatics Centre in London on Tuesday to watch Phelps, and she says she was happy for him.

"I saw him swim, and I saw my record swim away," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

"He's very talented — no doubt about that," the 77-year-old added.

Latynina competed in an era when gymnastics was more about femininity and maturity, rather than teenage acrobatics, which has dominated the sport for decades.

It's not unusual for gymnasts today to retire at 18, while Latynina made her debut in international competition at the age of 19. She was four months pregnant with her daughter Tatyana while competing at the world championships in 1958.

Latynina won her last medal at the Tokyo Games in 1964 when she was nearly 30 — unusually old for gymnasts.

Nadia Comaneci, who is described as the best female gymnast in history, retired in 1981 when she was 20 with nine Olympic medals, five of them gold.

"We knew about her because we are in the same sport, and you always pay attention to the history," Comaneci said in an interview. "We grew up watching — I didn't compete with her, but I watched her performances."

Latynina's fame peaked at a time when television in the Soviet Union was practically nonexistent. Although she is revered and respected by the gymnastics community at home and abroad, she is not as visible as Comaneci and younger gymnasts.

Comaneci said Latynina was determined "to be the best," although gymnastics was a very different sport in that era.

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