andre-agassi-and-steffi-graf
Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff

Quarterback Tom Brady and Super Model Gisele Bundchen are. So are Tennis great Serena Williams and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. Then there is golf icon Tiger Woods and ski champion Lindsey Vonn, as well as Olympian greats Nadia Comaneci and Bart Connor. These are Sports’ Power Couples, a duo of envious capabilities and qualities that will cause entire rooms to turn heads.

But perhaps the greatest sports power couple of all time is the love match of tennis legends, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

Andre Agassi, the charismatic, enigmatic tennis tour de force of the 1990s and oughts is one of 8 men to have a career grand slam, having won eight grand slam titles over the course of the four major tournaments: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. To win the biggest tournaments on three different surfaces – hard court, grass and clay – is a testament to versatility and greatness. Additionally, Agassi won gold in men’s singles tennis at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, thus making him the first and only man to earn the informal title of Career Golden Slam, until Rafael Nadal accomplished that with combined Olympic victory in 2008, and US Open victory in 2010.

Steffi Graf tops the accomplishments of her husband. The German superstar of the 1980s and 1990s is arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time. Over her career, Graf has won 22 Grand Slam singles titles (tied with Serena Williams), and in one incredible year, she pulled off a purist’s dream. In 1988, Graf won the Australian, the French, Wimbledon and the US Open, capping it off by winning the gold medal in women’s singles at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

A Golden Slam. Until Steffi Graf, no one, man or woman, had ever done that.

steffi-graf-and-andre-agassi-family

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Larisa Latynina in Tokyo on the balance beam.
Larisa Latynina in Tokyo on the balance beam, from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency”

Larisa Latynina has won 18 Olympic Medals – that’s a career haul of over 2 kilograms, an Olympian achievement that only Michael Phelps has been able to eclipse. When Phelps passed Latynina in 2012, she famously quipped that it was about time a man was able to do what a woman had done a long time ago.

Latynina was gracious in the passing of the torch to Phelps, enjoying the internet limelight despite missing the fame that television brought to gymnasts Olga Korbut or Nadia Comăneci. In the 1950s and 1960s, Latynina, a Ukrainian who competed under the flag of the Soviet Union, was the undisputed queen of gymnastics, on a women’s team with a proud tradition of Olympic glory.

At the Tokyo Games in 1964, Latynina won six more medals, including two golds, bringing her Olympic total of medals to eighteen. Her total 14 individual medals is still a record for female athletes. Despite helping her team to a third consecutive Olympic team gold medal, Latynina gave way in Tokyo to an up-and-coming star from Czechoslovakia, Věra Čáslavská, on the overall individual championship, who would go on to win more individual gold medals in the Olympics – seven – than any other female gymnast.

Amazingly, Latynina continued her run of championships as a coach of the Soviet Union women’s gymnastics team from 1965 to 1977, where her team took gold again and again and again.

In the 1950s and 1960s, so many athletes who competed in the Olympic Games emerged from war-torn environments, overcoming poor conditions to become the very best in the world. As explained in this link, Latynina was no exception, growing up at a time when Ukrainians either resisted or gave in to Soviet collectivization of farms, and the policy ultimately contributing to famines.

And then there were the war years, when both of Latynina’s parents died. According to this ESPN article, her father was killed in battle in 1943, and her mother had to raise her sweeping floors, washing dishes and being a night guard in order to support her daughter’s training, until she too passed away.

Larisa Latynina in MelbourneAt that end of the war, she was 11 and started ballet, her training leading to gymnastic exercises, and eventually to gymnastics full time. At the age of 22, she led the women’s Soviet team to gold in addition to earning three individual golds, continuing a long run of glory for Soviet women’s gymnastics.

Gymnastics would evolve, points more and more earned for athletic difficulty in addition to grace and beauty, in good part due to the impact of technology on sports equipment. “More sophisticated equipment has raised the bar of what the human body can achieve, and, in turn, made the sport more complex. For example, the floor exercise was originally performed on a wooden surface. Later a thin mat was added, and today there is a springy layer that allows for higher jumping without injury.” (See this link.)

Nadia Comaneci of Romania, who along with Olga Korbut were beneficiaries of more advanced technology that