Born as Larisa Semyonovna Diriy in Ukraine, she first practiced ballet, but turned to gymnastics after her choreographer moved out of Kherson.
She graduated from high school in 1953 and moved to Kiev to attend the Lenin Polytechnic Institute and continue training, where she trained at the Burevestnik Voluntary Sports Society.
Between 1956 and 1964 she won 14 individual Olympic medals and four team medals.
Her total of 18 Olympic medals was a record for 48 years until surpassed by American swimmer Michael Phelps on the 31st of July 2012.
Although Phelps broke her total medal count record, her record for individual event medals (14) still stands.
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 defended her floor title, took silver medals in the balance beam and uneven bars events, and bronze in the vault competition.
Latynina’s 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 18.
She held the distinction of having more Olympic medals (either individually or with a team) than anybody, from 1964 until 2012.
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, the only woman who has won an individual event (floor exercise) in more than two Olympiads, and one of only three women who have won every individual event at either the World Championship or Olympic level.
Latynina continued to train diligently, and her winning streak remained an impressive one.
At the 1961 European Championships she won first place in two events, and finished second in two others, a feat she repeated the following year at the 1962 World Championships.
She was one of only four women ever to win four consecutive World Championship titles, along with two other Russian women, Lyudmila Turishcheva and Svetlana Khorkina, and the American gymnast Shannon Miller.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics would be Latynina’s final one as a competitor, however, for she was nearly 30 years old and past the usual age for women gymnasts.
At the 1965 European Championships, Latynina won four silver medals and a bronze.
A year later, at the 1966 World Championships, she finished in eleventh place, and officially retired from competition.
She had already moved over to the second segment of her career, coaching a new generation of elite Russian gymnasts, and became the Soviet national team coach in 1966.
Her position as the top Soviet women’s gymnast was taken over by her protégé, Natasha Kuchinskaya.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Kuchinskaya was the gold-medal-winning star gymnast, but back at home, Latynina recalled in the Soviet Sports Wars documentary, Kuchinskaya began to balk at the rules.