Whilst he personally disowns the moniker 'Medal Maker' ("I am just helping my sailors win medals - I help them find the key - they are the medal makers"), KOVALENKO has achieved a remarkable level of success as a coach and no doubt will be paying close attention to the young stars lining up to race in the Two Person Dinghy events on Port Phillip Bay as Sail Melbourne, the first event of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, gets underway on 16 December.
2008 Beijing Olympic Games
The Australian 470 success in Qingdao was a return to form for a nation which has historically excelled in the two person dinghy events. No Olympic sailing medals were brought back to Australia in 2004, although Nathan WILMOT and Malcolm PAGE (AUS) won their first World title in the 470 Class just a few months prior to the Olympics.
"We had bad luck. WILMOT and PAGE were disqualified in a race during the start of the event. In such a situation, you start to take risks to get back into a position with perspective for medals.
"Belinda STOWELL got sick at the start of the event, and gave the virus to Jenny ARMSTRONG. She got sick in the final phase.
"Of course I also have my personal objectives. Especially after Athens, there was a big challenge," KOVALENKO explains.
And success came. In heavy conditions at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, the Australian men won their third World title. Elise RECHICHI and Tessa PARKINSON (AUS) made it to the Medal Race, but the power of Dutch duo Marcelien DE KONING and Lobke BERKHOUT (NED) won them the World Championship title for the third time in a row, keeping the Australian women in the shadow as predictions were made for Olympic gold in 2008.
However just one month later, both Australian teams were in the light lime. WILMOT and PAGE claimed the gold medal at the Olympic Test Event in Qingdao in the men's fleet, whilst RECHICHI and PARKINSON also won gold in the women's. A year later and the Australian 470 teams scored a repeat result, both leaving Qingdao as the proud owners of Olympic gold medals.
Key To Success
KOVALENKO, hardly ever referring to himself or claiming credit for the success of athletes under his wing, explains what it takes a coach to support athletes on their way to success.
"When I work with people, I try to look into their minds, try to explore their unique abilities and develop those. As a coach you also need to be able to design a programme, and there are a lot of criteria to take into account," he says.
Looking back over the past Olympic cycle he says that this year was actually easier from a coaching perspective, "The year 2007 was the toughest. We prepared to peak at two top events. A heavy wind event at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, and a light wind event the month after at the last Test Event in Qingdao. In 2008 this was a lot easier." he said.
After more than 25 years racing and coaching in 470s, KOVALENKO is showing no signs of tiring with the class and is already looking forward to London 2012.
"Sailing a 470 on Olympic levels requires everything that justifies a sportsman calling himself an athlete. It needs fitness, analytic abilities, technical and tactical skills, knowledge of equipment and aerodynamics.
"Sailing fast in a 470 needs full use of brain and body. With all the skills and knowledge developed in a competitive 470 campaign, one can sail any boat or class and win.
"About a month ago, Nicolas CHARBONNIER [(FRA) bronze medal winning skipper in the Men's 470 at the 2008 Olympic Games] participated in a multihull event in Valencia and came second. There are so many examples of events where 470 sailors have been, and continue to be successful in other classes such as the 49er, Star and Tornado. With the 470, these are all high performance classes.
"Nathan OUTTERIDGE [(AUS)], a very talented sailor, successful in 420s, continued in 470s and moved on to the 49ers and became 49er World Champion this year.
"Nathan WILMOT has set his mind on the Star class, and Malcolm PAGE? We'll see. I want to go on with 470s onto London 2012. It's an amazing boat and my favourite class. I like one-designs. There are classes where it is difficult to buy a boat because they have significant differences, or that they are equipped with exclusive riggings and fittings.
"The 470 is built by just a few licensed and dedicated builders, who have to be competitive to build the best boat within very small margins of flexibility within the strict class rules. The boats are fitted with equipment that you can buy just by walking into any store. I remember this time where we just borrowed a mast from the Austrian team, and we won the race. That is sportsmanship and one-design," he says.
On the debate surrounding the equipment for the Two Person Dinghy events at the Olympic Games, KOVALENKO doesn't believe the 470 should be involved in an either/or tug of war with a more modern, high performance design.
"When 470 sailors grow too heavy, or they need a new challenge after a successful 470 career, they have the opportunity to start a 49er campaign with all their skills and knowledge gained in 470s. Both classes add value; it should not be a choice.
"WILMOT and PAGE could be very successful in a 49er campaign, so would the COSTER brothers [Sven COSTER and Kalle COSTER (NED)] from The Netherlands," says KOVALENKO.
He continues in typically forthright fashion, "The discussion about which boat is more interesting for the public is useless. The 49er Medal Race in Qingdao was painful! A disaster for the sport! Think of a Formula 1 race where all the favourite cars crash. Maybe spectacular for the public, but what is a sport without a winner of the game itself.
"A 470 can be sailed in all conditions, light and heavy. The 470 Medal Races would have been very exciting in the heavy conditions of the day of the 49er's Medal Race. Maybe only one would have capsized, and the best would have been the winner," he said.
At the recent ISAF Annual Conference in Madrid, one of the most hotly debated topics of the week was the choice of equipment for the Women's Two Person Dinghy sailing event at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Every Committee who addressed the issue presented some very differing views. Many were in favour of maintaining continuity and building on the strength of the well-established 470 class, equipment in the Olympic Women's Two Person Dinghy event since it was first introduced in 1988. For others, the 29er XX skiff represented a class which would be more appealing for sailors, spectators and media. After a very close vote, the ISAF Council decided in favour of the 470 for 2012. Unsurprisingly, KOVALENKO is firmly in favour of maintaining the 470's status as Olympic equipment.
"And about the 470 Women. This issue has been discussed for so many times now! What is a high performance boat for women? The 470 is! The 29er is not a high performance boat. The 49er is. If there should be any need to replace the 470, or to add a high performance dinghy to the programme, such a class should at least raise the high performance characteristics of women's double handed sailing, raise the level of performance, and raise global competition in numbers of represented countries," says KOVALENKO.
"Sailing a 470 and reaching the top needs a lot of skills. A 470 crew can easily step into any boat and win a regatta. If anyone thinks that another 'high performance" dinghy would be better, the leading 470 women must have a challenge in a mature class. Sailors in such another class must have the ability to compete at the top with a 470 crew. There have been several examples the last few years where it showed that such a dinghy has not been found yet.
"We have to face that the 470 class has about 12 women's crews from all parts over the world performing at exceptional levels in the 470 class, in terms of sports in general. Development of women's sports is such a hot issue, and I don't understand the discussion about putting the 470 as a two person dinghy on the line. I challenge anyone to mention to me other Olympic sport performed by women where 33 countries are represented in a World Championship, not even to speak of the total number of countries that were represented at women's top events in the 470 class during the latest Olympic quadrennium.
"The 470 will have the Olympic status for Men as well as for Women for a long time, wait and see!" KOVALENKO concludes.
Sail Melbourne in Australia, the first event of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, takes place from 16-21 December 2008. Find out more at www.sailing.org/isafsailingworldcup.
This article is adapted from "Victor KOVALENKO has done it again" by Rick van Wijngaarden, first published in 470 eTimes, November 2008. Click here to read the original article.