10 Greatest Female Gymnasts in History

Gymnastics is certainly one of the most difficult sport disciplines, requiring strength, agility and coordination. The female artistic gymnastics include exercises on vault, uneven (asymmetric) bars, balance beam and floor. Making a list of the greatest athletes is likely to be controversial and will not satisfy some people who will feel the disappointment that their favorite athlete is not on the list.

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My criteria for making the list are: a.) the gymnast must have won at least one all-around World or Olympic title; and b.) she must have at least two World or Olympic titles on any apparatus, as well. (For those who feel disappointed that their favorite athletes were not included, I sincerely apologize for there are many gymnasts who did not both criteria but are nevertheless considered great gymnasts as well, like Lavinia Miloşovici, Gina Gogean, Olga Korbut, Daniela Silivas, Dominique Moceanu, Mo Huilan and a lot more.)

As follows are my top 10 greatest female gymnasts in history:

1. Svetlana Khorkina (Russia)

Having won seven Olympic medals and twenty World championship medals, this unusually tall gymnast is considered to be one of the most popular and most successful gymnasts of her generation. She is the very first gymnast to win three World all-around titles (1997, 2001 and 2003). She earned the nickname “Queen of the Bars” for her unrivaled domination on uneven bars, where she won five consecutive World titles (1995-1997, 1999, 2001) and two consecutive Olympic titles (1996, 2000). She is best known for her expressive and elegant dance, as well as for her extremely difficult and innovative routines, with unprecedented eight skills named after her in the Code of Points.

2. Larissa Latynina (USSR / Russia)

Two-time Olympic (1956, 1960) and two-time World (1958, 1962) all-around champion. She still holds the record for having won the most number of Olympic medals at eighteen (nine gold medals, five silver and four bronze). Trained in ballet, she was known for her graceful movements on floor exercise, where she won three consecutive Olympic titles (1956, 1960 and 1964).

3. Svetlana Boginskaya (USSR / Belarus)

The 1989 World all-around champion and three-time Olympic medallist, who was nicknamed the “Goddess of Gymnastics” and “Belarusian Swan” because of her stature, balletic grace, and long elegant lines that was most eminently exhibited in most of her routines, especially on floor exercise. In 1990, she swept the European Gymnastics Championships by winning the gold in every individual event.

4. Ludmilla Tourischeva (USSR / Ukraine)

The 1970 and 1974 World all-around champion. She was regarded as the epitome of the Soviet style gymnastics: grace, classiness, perfect form and flawless technique. Although she won the all-around title in the 1972 Munich Olympics, she was largely overshadowed by the unexpected fame of her compatriot Olga Korbut, whose exceptional acrobatic skills and open display of emotion, in contrast to the typical stoic expression of eastern bloc athletes, enraptured world audiences.

5. Věra Čáslavská (Czechoslovakia)

One of only two female gymnasts, along with Larissa Latynina of the USSR, to win two consecutive all-around Olympic titles (1964, 1968). She holds the record of most Olympic individual event titles than any other gymnasts, a record that still stands today. She was well known for her cheerful demeanor and extraordinary stage presence; and at the same time, she was also revered for her courage in openly voicing her opposition to communism and the Soviet invasion of her country during the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

6. Yelena Shushunova (USSR / Russia)

1985 World and 1988 Olympic all-around champion. She is best known for her powerful vaulting and difficult tumbling as well as her matchless consistency, having won medals on every apparatus including world titles on vault (1985, 1987) and floor exercise (1985).

7. Nadia Comăneci (Romania)

The media darling of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where she became the very first gymnast at any Olympics to be awarded a perfect score of 10 and would eventually earn six more 10s, on the way to capturing the all-around, uneven bars and balance beam title. At only age 14, she was the youngest ever Olympics gymnastics all-around champion. She is credited, along with Olga Korbut, for popularizing the sport all over the world.

8. Shannon Miller (USA)

The 1993 and 1994 all-around World Champion and the 1996 Olympics balance beam gold medallist. With a total of sixteen World championship and Olympic medals, she is certainly the most decorated gymnast in American history. She is best remembered for her performance in the Individual All-around at the 1992 Olympic Games, where she missed the gold by the tiniest margin (0.012) in Olympic history.

9. Nellie Kim (USSR / Tajikistan)

The 1979 World all-around champion. She was the first woman in Olympic history to receive a perfect score of 10 on vault and floor exercise, winning the gold medal on both. She was admired not only for her feminine beauty but also for her flamboyance, gracefulness and intensity that marked her every routine.

10. Lilia Podkopayeva (Ukraine)

The first female gymnast since Ludmilla Tourischeva to simultaneously hold the European (1996), World (1995), and Olympic (1996) all-around titles. She was frequently described as the “complete package” gymnast, possessing impressive excellence in both technical skill and artistic expression with no apparent weakness in any of the four apparatus. Her routines were characterized as a combination of stylish choreography, clean execution, perfect form and exceptionally difficult skills.

More articles on Greatest Athletes series:

Articles on the Olympics:

Golden Olympic Performances:

Olympic Greats:

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28 Comments
  1. Verniel Cutar
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 9:15 am

    wow..eddie. Nice research! I really admire gymnasts…they symbolize discipline and perseverance. Thanks for posting!

    –Verniel Cutar (a.k.a gentlehorizons)
    https://triond.com/users/Verniel+Cutar

  2. eddiego65
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Thanks! Gymnasts make lots of sacrifices (hours upon hours of practice and through all the injuries) to be able to achieve perfection in their routines. Yes, I agree with you, Verniel, they are the embodiment of discipline and perseverance.

    The rankings of this article was supposed to be a countdown starting from 10th (Lilia Podkopayeva) down to the greatest (Svetlana Khorkina).

  3. R J Evans
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Yes, very good list – but no Olga Korbut?

  4. No
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Lilia came in, won two titles because otehrs fell and then she left. I disagree she is number 1 but your list overall is pretty well thought out.

  5. stacey
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    thanks for this….i agree with this list!!! but in my opinion, the greatest gymnast of all is Shannon Miller! not because of all of her medals but her determination, discipline and love for the game!

  6. nobert soloria bermosa
    Posted August 3, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    nice researched job bro,maybe on a sequel you have to add sonja henie,she won 3 golds in 3 successive olympics and was world champ for 10 consecutive years

  7. eddiego65
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Stacey, I agree with you very much! Shannon Miller is my favorite gymnast. She has everything a gymnast require: grace, perfect form, great technique and consistency.

    However, I based the rankings on the criteria set forth at the beginning of the article. If not for the criteria, she should be number one in my book.

  8. Carolyn
    Posted August 7, 2008 at 4:14 am

    Is Shannon Miller #3… or #8?

  9. eddiego65
    Posted August 7, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Shannon Miller is number eight. When I sent my article, the rankings was supposed to be a countdown from 10th (Podkopayeva) to first (Khorkina). However, when the article was published, the article was edited to begin with Podkopayeva as number one. So I sent an article to fix the error. The corrected article, instead of a countdown, shows the ranks in their numerical order, from first to tenth.

    Sorry for the confusion!

    Thanks for reading my article!

  10. CharismaQueen
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 1:47 am

    Not enough people write about gymnastics! Glad to see you did.

  11. tonisan60
    Posted August 11, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Excelent research again, my claps for your article.

  12. Andreas
    Posted August 13, 2008 at 5:08 am

    I agree with the #1 watching Khorkina was like watching a ballerina perform flips she was just so elegant and doing moves that only she could do. She of course often fell but at least she was gutsy enough to be an innovator in the sport by doing thing never done before.

  13. atlanta peach
    Posted August 17, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I am not sure if that is a joke but Sonja Henie was an ice skater…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonja_Henie

    I think Nadia should be number one with out a doubt and the late Elena Mukina, should be on your list. Otherwise, nice job

  14. Alex
    Posted August 24, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    has anyone here read this amazing poem about olga korbut? it goes on about how olga korbut changed gymnastics. in one part is sais something like ” olga in the sport of water (or peace maybe?)” and danse is mentioned. please if anyone knows!

  15. Ariana
    Posted September 14, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Khorkina!! Oh how I miss her. A living legend! If Liukin wins a World AA title, she would make this list right?

  16. Anonymous
    Posted September 21, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Nice work! With the criteria you have set of an All Around gold and 2 Event Final golds being mandatory, I agree that the ten gymnasts on the list are unquestionably the correct ten. However, Turischeva and Comaneci should really be the top two on the list (in whichever order), followed closely by Latynina, Caslavska, and Khorkina (again, not necessarily in that order). Boginskaya, Miller, and Shushunova should be behind them. Kim should come after those three (as you have her), and then Podkopayeva should definitely be last (again, as you have her).

    I understand that you have Khorkina, Latynina, Turischeva, and Caslvska ranked highly (deservedly so), in part due to their enormous medal haul, but Comaneci is certainly up there with them despite not having the sheer volume of medals. She was about as far ahead of her time as anyone has ever been, and she was one of the most dominant gymnasts ever.

  17. Anonymous
    Posted September 21, 2008 at 11:39 am

    These gymnasts do not fit your criteria of an all-around gold and two event final golds, but they are all arguably better than Podkopayeva: Natalia Laschenova, Daniela Silivas, Elena Mukhina, Olga Korbut, Natalia Yurchenko, Oksana Omelianchik, Olga Mostepanova, and Auriela Dobre.

    Laschenova, Silivas, Korbut, and Mostepanova lack the AA gold. However, it was not Mostepanova’s fault that the Olympics she competed in was not the officially recognized one; her Olympics was more competitive than the ‘84 Los Angeles Games that the Soviet bloc boycotted. Mostepanova won the 1984 Soviet bloc Spartikade Olomouc Games with a performance that was far superior to that of Mary Lou Retton.

    Mukhina, Yurchenko, Omelianchik, and Dobre have the AA title but lack two EF titles.

    I still think you have done an excellent job. Especially because using any criteria, Turischeva, Comaneci, Latynina, Caslavska, Khorkina, Boginskaya, Miller, and Shushunova would all be on a top ten list. That’s 8 of 10 I completely agree with. Kim and Podkopayeva are only ones I personally would debate, but Kim is certainly close if not there. Although I think there have been better gymnasts than Podkopayeva, I do believe it is important to establsh yourself as the best AA gymnast in your time, not to perpetually win silvers or bronzes like Milosovici, Gogean, or Amanar, all of whom were great gymnasts, but none of whom should qualify as top 10 of all time. They played it safe and steady to always win a minor medal (Amanar’s 2000 AA gold was obviously a joke with the setting of the vault being miscalculated). You really need to be a clear dominant factor in your time and should IMO be deserving of at least one AA title to be in line with the aforementioned greats.

    I appreciate your work!

  18. NPO
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Nastia is no a top 10 gymnast. She competes in the weakest of times gymnastics has ever had. She wouldn’t sniff the medal count competing against the best gymnasts of all time. Sorry but bars aside she doesn’t have the AA talent to compete with most of the gymnasts on this list.

  19. eddiego65
    Posted September 23, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Thanks, anonymous, for your comments and for appreciating my work.

    There are so many great gymnasts, who have contributed greatly to the development of the sport and its popularity, though they may not have met the criteria I’ve set. Maybe I will be making a list based on different set of criteria to accomodate truly great gymnasts who have not won as many medals. And I do agree with most of the names that you mentioned.

  20. Subhashis
    Posted November 12, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Great List! Except that No Olga Korbut?

  21. mars
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 7:30 am

    This list is a mess. Everyone can make a list according to her/his own favourites.

  22. Sarah
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Um wheres Olga korbut?

  23. Kayla
    Posted September 19, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    NPO Nastia is a very strong gymanst, I think she should have gotten #8 I think Nadia should be #2

  24. Posted February 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    This is a TOUGH list to make, and I think you did a fine job. I did a similar ranking on my site, and I caught hell from all corners. I agree that when all is said and done, whether you like Khorkina or not (I love her), she has to top ANY “best” list. After that, Nadia has to be there, and after that, it’s anybody’s guess.

  25. marcus clement
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

    If only miller had been able to even just stand up like Bogy!

    If only miller had been able to dance like Bogy

    If only miller had been able have !0% of Bogy’s charm

    If only…….Ok! forget it. Its just to much to ask.

  26. marcus clement
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 11:11 am

    If only miller had been able to even just stand up like Bogy!
    If only miller had been able to dance like Bogy
    If only miller had been able have !0% of Bogy\’s charm
    If only…….Ok! forget it. Its just to much to ask.

  27. George
    Posted May 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    this list is good but completely out of order;

    clearly Nadia Comăneci is number 1;she basically retired at 18 years of age; conquered everything and perfect 10 remember.

  28. Dr. Glenn Jakobsen
    Posted August 5, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Excellent list, and I understand your criteria may have resulted in some exclusions. I would point out, however, that little Olga Korbut, came from behind with her radically different approach and upset the sport forever. Judges were forced to rethink dogmatic scoring systems as we, in the USA, were forced to rethink our notions of the USSR. Gymnastics became a household word as Olga captured our hearts, and without knowing, began to part the iron curtain. She is the stuff of legends.

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