by Craig Heydon
The Australian Sailing Team’s Head Coach, Victor Kovalenko, has been recognised for his contributions to the sport of sailing with an Order of Australia Medal in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Victor Kovalenko with Australian Sailing Team members Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page
Kovalenko, 61, has played a significant role in the development of the current group of Australian World and Olympic Champion sailors with his contribution key to the country’s continual success at the highest level.
'The recognition is not only for me but for the whole team, all sailors and I am incredibly proud,' said Kovalenko. 'I love my job, I love Australia and to be able to combine the two is a great privilege.
‘I’m a very proud Australian, especially when I got my citizenship,' he said. 'I was incredibly proud to raise the Australian flag on my motorboat, to stand up when the anthem was played after an Australian won.
'Australia is a really special place, this is my country, my big and strong country and I am a very, very proud Australian, everywhere I go I am always representing the country,' said Kovalenko. 'Whatever I am doing I am representing the team and Australia and that is a big responsibility, some people only ever meet an Australian once in their life so you need to remember that and show how good we are, how kind Australians are.
'I’m really happy with this recognition of my modest work,' he said. 'This is a big event for me and a big credit, it’s a great recognition for our sport.'
Originally from the Ukraine, Kovalenko and his family moved to Australia in 1997, having been recruited to the position of coach for the Australian men’s and women’s 470 classes. Before taking on the role he had been coach of the Ukrainian 470 classes, with the Ukraine winning a silver medal at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
After less than three years as the Australian 470 class coach, Kovalenko reversed the fortunes of Australia’s leading the women’s and men’s 470 crews, with each crew winning gold medals at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Following this success Kovalenko was elevated to Head Coach of the sailing program for the Athens 2004 Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Australia again had success at the top level under the guidance of Kovalenko in 2008, with Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page, and Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson, winning gold medals.
Currently Kovalenko is working with 470 men’s crew Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page as they work towards the goal of defending Page’s 2008 gold medal. Under Kovalenko’s guidance Belcher and Page have won the last three 470 World Champions and have been world number ones for almost three years, defeating all comers along the way.
Kovalenko has made an exceptional contribution to the sport of sailing by improving performance at the highest level. There is no doubt that his contribution will have a lasting impact on the strength of sailing in Australia, both at a local club level, through the inspiration that his athletes provide and at an Olympic level, where Australian athletes continue to perform to the peak of their potential.
In particular, Kovalenko has been able to work with young, aspiring athletes with potential and help them to recognise that potential by changing their thinking and level of application.
Kovalenko is an exceptional coach mainly because he takes a holistic approach in guiding athletes rather than just assisting them technically. His ongoing involvement in Australian sailing will help keep the country at the top of the sport for many years to come.
On behalf of the sailing community, Yachting Australia congratulates Victor on this well-deserved recognition of his enormous contribution to sailing in this country.