Victor Kovalenko, the architect of five Olympic gold medals for Australia, will be recognised at a heartfelt ceremony tonight at the place where he first hunkered down in his adopted country, marking 20 years since he arrived from Ukraine.
The world’s greatest sailing coach will then receive the ultimate accolade on Friday night when he is inducted into the inaugural Australian Sailing Hall of Fame, alongside the sport’s legends, including the crew of Australia II.
“[HMAS] Penguin was the home of Australian Sailing at that time, but not just in name,” Kovalenko said.
“The key was the people at the Penguin base because they were real Australians. The same like us, they were everyday under the flag of Australia. In my motorboat I am [under the flag] everyday and they were everyday under Australian Navy flag on their big ships and on their small boats.
“All of us, we were working for Australia and this spirit of Australia was going through all the team.”
Kovalenko, widely known as ‘The Medal Maker’, currently coaches 2012 Olympic gold medalist Mat Belcher and crew Will Ryan. The pair won silver at the Rio Games and earlier this year won their fourth World Championship together. They are ranked No.1 in the world.
The success of Belcher and Ryan continues a long list of triumphs for Kovalenko, whose own sailing career in the former Soviet Union was cut short by the boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
In his early years as a coach, he led USSR’s 470 women’s team to a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Games and won gold and bronze in 1996 with Ukraine’s men’s and women’s 470 teams.
Just three years after settling in Australia, Kovalenko guided Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell to Australia’s first women’s Olympic sailing gold medal before, later that day, his men’s team of Tom King and Mark Turnbull also claimed gold.
Under Kovalenko’s tutelage, the 470 men’s and women’s crews each won gold medals at Beijing in 2008, the men won gold in 2012 and silver last year.
The 67-year-old exceptional contribution to Australian sporting success has been honoured with an Order of Australia and his elevation to the Sports Australia Hall of Fame.
See the Hall of Fame HERE
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