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Victor Kovalenko

Mat Belcher

Profile: Victor Kovalenko (The Medal Maker)
Australian Institute of Sport Sailing Head Coach

Growing up in Dnipropetrovsk in the Ukraine with his parents and a younger sister, Victor was a fulltime student on the Ukraine’s athletic team, becoming an Honorary Master of Sports after 10 years and then President.

Awarded a Special diploma with a gold medal from the faculty of Physical Culture of the Nikolaev State Pedagogical Institute in the Ukraine, Victor sailed both a 470 and Flying Dutchman to National championship wins, but retired in 1983 because of the boycott of the Los Angeles Games. His mission was not completed, “that’s what gave me the drive to be a good coach.”

Today he is one of the most respected and successful sailing coaches around, having coached 10 crews to world title wins and three each to gold and bronze Olympic medals.

Of his decision to make Australia home, Victor says: “I was here for the 470 Worlds in 1991 and stayed on to help Jenni Lidgett with her 470 Olympic campaign. I love Australia. I love the people and the gold and green hills - Australia is my love affair.”

After coaching the 1996 470 Men’s and Women’s Ukraine crews to Olympic gold and bronze respectively, Victor, in October 1997, accepted the then Australian Yachting Federation’s offer to coach the Australian 470 crews.

Victor’s work with 470 crews led to extraordinary success, particularly in 2000. He told his crews: “Get your dream, trust yourself and follow your dream.” It paid off when both Australian Men’s and Women’s crews won a number of titles, culminating in a gold medal for both at the 2000 Olympic Games and a world title for the Men.

Following the 2000 Games Victor was named National Head Coach and AIS Sailing Program Head Coach.

Great results continued in a number of classes, but major disappointment struck at the 2004 Games. None of the expected medals came to fruition. “I was working hard, I had too much to do and not enough human resources in the team – no assistance – those things did not help, but things are different now, we are on track.”

In November 2004, being inducted into the 470 Hall of Fame made Victor inordinately proud, but his moniker, the “Medal Maker”, makes him uncomfortable. “No, I am just helping my sailors win medals – I help them find the key – they are the medal makers.”

The key to his coaching triumphs, he says, “is because I love people. I feel very privileged to work with such talented people. I like to help change their personalities so they can achieve their goals. I love that process – watching them evolve.”

Highlights, of which there are many, include his Australian citizenship ceremony during Sail Melbourne in January 2003, attended by many in the sailing community; the first ever two gold medals won by Australia (Sydney 2000) in the 470 class and the back-to-back 2004/2005 world titles wins of Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page – a feat not achieved by any 470 sailor for 22 years.

Married with one son, a former Youth sailing champion now in his 20s, the 55 year-old says he could not have accomplished all he has without his wife’s support. “She looks after everything; bringing up our son - doing everything.”

And what drives this coach? “I think of life and use it as a role model. Life is like a big race – sometimes you win by skill, sometimes you are lucky to meet interesting people and learn from them. I am transferring that knowledge to my sailors.”

And what of the future? “To work hard, to bring back our glory from Beijing.”

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