Born Larissa Diriy, she first practised ballet, but turned to gymnastics after her choreographer moved out of town. At age 19, she debuted internationally at the 1954 Rome World Championships, winning the team all-around title.
At the 1956 Summer Olympics, she battled with Ágnes Keleti of Hungary to become the most successful gymnast of the Olympics. Latynina beat Keleti in the all-around event, and the Soviet team also won the team event. Latynina furthermore won gold medals on the floor (shared with Keleti) and the horse vault, a silver medal in the uneven bars, and a bronze medals in the now discontinued team event with portable apparatus. Keleti also won six medals, but won four golds and two silvers.
After a very successful World Championships (winning 5 out of 6 titles), Latynina was again the top favourite for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. In the all-around event, she lead the Soviet Union to take the first four places, thereby also securing a win in the team competition by a stunning margin of 9 points. Latynina also successfully defended her floor title, while winning silver medals in the balance beam and uneven bars event. Finally, she won the bronze in the horse vault competition.
Still the defending World Champion at the 1964 Summer Olympics, Latynina was beaten in the all-around competition by Věra Čáslavská of Czechoslovakia. She did however add two more gold medals to her tally, winning the team event and the floor event both for the third time in a row. A silver medal and two bronzes in the other apparatus events brought her total of Olympic medals to eightteen, nine gold medals, five silver and four bronze.