The Greatest Women Gymnasts: Larissa Latynina, Vera Caslavska, Ludmilla Tourisheva, Nadia Comeneci, Svetlana Khorkina and Simone Biles

Choosing the greatest all-round female gymnast in history is difficult because the most dominant gymnasts were competing when the depth of competition was far less strong. There are six gymnasts who deserve consideration in my opinion.

Larissa Latynina (Russia) – the winner of 14 individual Olympic medals, still a record, and nine gold medals (more than any woman in history). She won two Olympic, two world and two European all-round titles, which in those days was the equivalent of a world title as all the top nations were European.

She was succeeded as the dominant gymnast by Vera Caslavska of Czechslovakia. She won seven individual Olympic golds, a record for a woman. She won two Olympic, one world and two European all-round titles.

Ludmilla Tourischeva was the best gymnast of the early 1970s. She won the 1972 Olympic all-round title, two world, a World Cup  and European all-round titles.

Nadia Comaneci took over as the world’s greatest woman gymnast. She emerged at the 1976 Olympics scoring the first perfect 10.0 ever recorded in competition She added another six perfect scores for possibly the finest ever performance in women’s gymnastics history. She added world and European all-round titles.

Svetlana Khorkina was the finest woman gymnast of the years around the turn of the 21st century. She was the only woman in that era who managed to remain at the top of the all-round standings for any length of time. There were so many gymnasts who have won one or two titles whereas Khorkina won Olympic, world and European all-round titles.

The outstanding female gymnast of the last decade has been America’s Simone Biles. She won every world or Olympic all-around title that she contested since
2013, five in all, a record number of global all-around golds.

It is a very hard choice and all of them have different claims on the title but as my top two I go for Latynina because she was dominant for so long and Biles. I have tried to weigh up if Biles’s five global titles with the strength of modern day competition outweighs what were Latynina’s effectively six titles and have decided that Simone Biles is now the greatest all-round female gymnast.

 

These six gymnasts also dominate when it comes to choosing the finest gymnasts on each individual apparatus. It is perhaps fitting that a different one of them comes out on top for each of the four.

On vault the clear number one is Caslavska. She won two Olympic, two world and two European vault titles between 1962 and 1968 and was unbeatable at vault in that era. Simona Amanar in the 1990s and Cheng Fei in the 2000s were also great vaulters. Nellie Kim scored the first perfect 10 in vault and won Olympic and world titles.

On floor I choose Biles over Latynina who won three Olympics (the only woman to win three golds at one event) , one world and two European titles. Biles is the modern great on floor with four world golds and an Olympic title. Tourischeva comes next with two world, two European and one world cup title. Daniela Silivas in the 1980s and Gina Gogean in the 1990s also won multiple titles.

On the Beam  I think the greatest gymnast is Comaneci. She won two Olympic golds, one world and a European title. Another Romanian, Daniela Silivas won an Olympic and two world titles and in my opinion is the next best.

On the Uneven Bars the undoubted champion is Khorkina. She won more titles on bars than any other woman did on any apparatus with two Olympic, five world and six European titles. Others who were exceptional on bars include Maxi Gnauck who won three world titles and an Olympic gold in the early 1980s, Polina Astakhova with two Olympic golds in the 1960s, Caslavska, Karin Janz and Daniela Silivas. However, they are all way behind the brilliant Khorkina.

Combining these choices with my previous ones for the men makes my overall choices for the greatest artistic gymnasts in history as follows.

MEN
All Around Kohei Uchimura (Japan)
Floor Vitaliy Scherbo (Belarus)
Vault Marian Dragulescu (Romania)
Rings Yuri Chechi (Italy)
High Bar Takashi Ono (Japan)
Parallel Bars Li Xiaopeng (China)
Pommel Horse Zoltan Magyar (Hungary)
WOMEN
All-around Larissa Latynina (Russia/USSR)
Vault Vera Caslavska (Czechoslovakia)
Floor Larissa Latynina (Russia/USSR)
Beam Nadia Comeneci (Romania)
Uneven Bars Svetlana Khorkina (Russia)

My choice of the greatest gymnasts of the 21st century.

MEN
All Around Kohei Uchimura (Japan)
Floor Marian Dragulescu (Romania)
Vault Marian Dragulescu (Romania)
Rings Chen Yibing (China)
High Bar Zou Kai (China)
Parallel Bars Li Xiaopeng (China)
Pommel Horse Xiao Qin (China)
WOMEN
All-around Simone Biles (USA)
Vault Cheng Fei (China)
Floor Simone Biles (USA)
Beam Nastia Liukin (USA)
Uneven Bars Svetlana Khorkina (Russia)
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