LONDON – In her final hour before losing her title as most-decorated Olympian of all time to Michael Phelps, Russian gymnastics legend Larissa Latynina was still holding on to her claim as the greatest the Games have ever seen.
As she left the stands at gymnastics venue the North Greenwich Arena to head to the aquatics center and watch Phelps' two historic races, the 18-time medalist spoke her mind.
"Do I think I am still the greatest Olympian?" she said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports translated by a Russian gymnastics federation official. "Why yes, but that is my opinion.
"Why do I think this? Well, I did not only compete in three Olympic Games and won many medals, but the Soviet Union team had very great success when I was the coach."
[Photos: Michael Phelps]
Success is an understatement. Latynina won nine golds and 18 total medals in her Olympic career, one that took her to Melbourne in 1956, Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964. When she was coach during the 1970s, the Soviet Union claimed another 10 golds.
Phelps and Latynina met at a promotional event in the United States earlier this year and had a short conversation, after which the gymnast presented the American swimmer with one of her medals as a token of respect.
When questioned by Y! Sports on Tuesday, she told how she would have mixed emotions while watching Phelps take part in the 200-meter butterfly and 4x200-meter freestyle relay in his quest to first match then break Latynina's record. Tuesday evening, Phelps broke Latynina's record by anchoring a gold-medal swim in 4x200 relay.
"Of course I know about this," she said. "I have been asked about this many times. Everyone wants to know about this, so I know every time he swims and what might happen. I am prepared. I am ready for this. I have had this record for a long time. I don't hope he will break it, of course not. But I know.
"I have met him and I liked him. He was a nice person and, of course, he is a great swimmer. It is special what he has done."
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