Ultimate accolade

Australia’s sailing supercoach Victor Kovalenko has received all kinds of awards, from Soviet sports medals to a Medal of the Order of Australia, but he’s just been presented with one he cherishes above all others.

Photography by Nikos Alevromytis

16 August 2017


Mat Belcher and Will Ryan took out the recent 470 World Championship 2017 in Thessaloniki, Greece, their fourth world crown in the highly demanding dinghy class.

After the achievement, Will presented Australia’s head coach with his World Championship Gold medal and said, “Victor, I want you to have this medal, without you there would be none. This medal belongs to you.”

The Medal Maker’s response? “I said ‘No, no, Will, it is not. This is your medal and you should keep it.’ But he is much bigger than I am, he just forced me to take it. Will is an amazing young gentleman and I was very touched by his action and I am very proud.”

Kovalenko reflected on the campaigns: “Mat’s seventh and Will’s fourth World Championship win is a just reward for two very talented and dedicated sailors. Both Mat and Will are outstanding sailors and I am lucky to work with them.”


It was Kovalenko who arranged for the newly-crowned Olympic 470 Gold medallist Mark Turnbull to take Belcher for his first ever sail on a 470, just a week after the 17 year old had won the 420 Worlds.

Eight years later Belcher was ranked No. 1 in the world, but he missed out on selection for the 470 team at the 2008 Beijing Games, where Australia took out both the Men’s and Women’s Gold. In 2012 he had his chance and won Olympic Gold in London 2012 with Malcolm Page. He then started an intense campaign with Will Ryan, his training partner crew who had won a medal in the 2008 29er Worlds and come through the Australian Sailing Squad ranks.

Belcher and Ryan won 18 consecutive regattas in the lead up to the 2016 Olympics. Their efforts ultimately earned them Silver in Rio.

Kovalenko has an unparalled coaching record; his sailors have won 10 Olympic medals and 19 World Championships. To date, 38 athletes who have trained under him have received Gold medals. For a man who has devoted his life to nurturing young talents, Will’s gesture is the ultimate expression of gratitude.

“This World Championship medal presented to me by Will Ryan is the highest level of recognition for my skills as a coach and of my contribution to this success,” he said.

On all their World Championship successes, Belcher commented, “We certainly could not have done this without Victor. I think the overall number of wins reflects the time and dedication we have spent in the class. We are just looking forward to now consolidating what we have done for this year and really try and establish what we need to do for Tokyo.

“This win has put us in a good position for our campaign and it shows our approach has worked. We are sailing well together and we are looking forward to using this as a platform to go forward.”

While Kovalenko’s training strategy has proved successful time and time again, he hasn’t stopped fine-tuning it. “Now we are doing a new kind of campaign, carefully selecting events for both landmark and strategic importance and building on training time and experience in other classes. It allows us to accommodate both Mat and Will’s other priorities.

“For Mat its making sure he has more time at home, for family and business interests and with our Australian 470 training base on the Gold Coast, the knowledge transfer to the next generation of young Australian sailors. […] After 470 we all want Will to sail at the top level in other types of sailing, such as America’s Cup and more big boat racing, perhaps in the future even the Volvo Ocean Race.

“One of the reasons it’s important that the combination of interests works is because young sailors considering the Olympic arena can see that their seniors have advanced their careers, taking advantage of what they learned in the Olympic campaigns to extend their careers. That can only increase the interest in Olympic campaigns,” Kovalenko said.



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