Larisa Latynina, the Soviet gymnast whose career record for most Olympic medals was broken by Michael Phelps Tuesday, says she doesn’t mind that the American swimmer has surpassed her mark.
Latynina, who stacked up an impressive 18 medals in the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics while competing for the Soviet Union, is now 77 years old and was in the audience for Phelps’ record-breaking 4×200-meter freestyle relay race Tuesday in London.
“I saw him swim, and I saw my record swim away,” Latynina said in a phone interview Tuesday with the New York Times.
Despite losing her record to Phelps, the one-time gymnast said she was happy for the swimmer and actually wanted to be the one to present him with the record-breaking medal when the time came. Unfortunately, Olympic red tape “wouldn’t allow it.”
“I’m pleased that a sportsman so talented would take this record,” said Latynina, who met Phelps in New York this year and described him as charming. “He is very deserving.”
The 77-year-old humbly added:
“Forty-eight years is almost enough time to hold a record.”
When questioned by Y! Sports if she thought she was still the greatest Olympian of all time, Latynina responded:
“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.”
In addition to the 18 total medals Larisa won competing as a gymnast in the Olympic games during the 50s and 60s, she also tacked on 10 more golds as a coach for the Soviet in the 70s.
“Among women, I’m sure I will stay No. 1 for a long time,” Latynina told the New York Times.