|10,000 Metres Race Walk||39:46.90||Yalta||15 OCT 2010|
|10 Kilometres Race Walk||39:56||Mukachevo||31 OCT 2009|
|20 Kilometres Race Walk||1:19:46||Alushta||28 FEB 2014|
|5000 Metres Race Walk||19:26.1||Kyiv (KMSVSM)||09 JAN 2017|
|10,000 Metres Race Walk||39:20.52||Sumy||20 FEB 2010|
|2017||19:26.1||Kyiv (KMSVSM)||09 JAN|
|The XXXI Olympic Games||40||1:24:40||Rio de Janeiro (Pontal)||12 AUG 2016|
|IAAF World Race Walking Team Championships||14||1:21:21||Roma||07 MAY 2016|
|IAAF World Race Walking Cup 2014||10||1:20:11||Taicang||04 MAY 2014|
|The XXX Olympic Games||27||1:22:54||London (The Mall)||04 AUG 2012|
|IAAF World Race Walking Cup 2012||5||1:20:38||Saransk||12 MAY 2012|
|13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics||26||1:25:50||Daegu (DS)||28 AUG 2011|
|23rd IAAF World Race Walking Cup||59||1:26:04||Cheboksary||10 MAY 2008|
Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.
Updated 18 April 2014
Nazar KOVALENKO, Ukraine (20 km Race Walk)
Born: 9 February 1987 in Kislyak village Vinnytsya region (central Ukraine)
Lives: Bila Tserkva (Kyiv region)
Coach: Anna Kovalenko, Bertrand Moulinet, Sergiy Martynov
Sport club: Amiens Université Club Athlétisme (France)
Little Nazar Kovalenko changed sports like a fashion-conscious woman changes her gloves. He was interested in football, tae kwon do, break dance, etc. In his 6th year at school, at about 13, Kovalenko switched to ballroom dances and teachers in unison praised his talent. However, living in the family of military man and a military doctor, he had to move from one place to another whenever his parent were transferred.
Aged 15, Nazar Kovalenko joined the athletics group of Aleksandr Fedorenko in Gvardeyskoe township, Dnipropetrovsk region. “To be honest I didn’t like athletics at all, but trainings in the group of my first coach were very special and varied. Although I started to run 800m and 1500m, we studied everything from swimming to all team sports such as basketball, volleyball and football. We played and swam using all professional rules and techniques and it was so interesting and helpful for our intellectual and physical development,” Kovalenko recalls.
After one year of training, Nazar finished second at the regional cross-country championships in his age category and received an invitation from Oleksandr Kapelyan to join his group in Dnipropetrovsk Sport College, where Kovalenko continued his running career and even won the regional youth championships at 800m. Very soon, his coach moved to Israel and Nazar was faced with a choice, either to end his athletics career or to switch to any other event. During one year, he learned the rudiment of race walking and finally moved to Bila Tserkva to train in Svitlana Kudlatska’s group in 2006.
“It was a difficult but very interesting period in my career,” Kovalenko talks. “I was a fanatic at practices. Rigorous technical work and big daily volumes I bore in one breath. Even being a newcomer in Race Walking, I knew well that the conversion from junior to senior sport is the most perilous period, when many athletes had to finish their performances. And I definitely wanted to stay in athletics.”
Enrolled at Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyy University, Nazar easily combined training with study. The Dean of the Physical Culture Department helped him to arrange an individual academic schedule, but on the other hand Nazar was inseparable from his textbooks and lecture notes at all his training camps and competitions. That year he won the national junior race walking championships at 10km and improved his PB to 43:02.
In 2007, Kovalenko had to start walking 20km. Accordingly, his training volume doubled. “I’ll never forget my 20km debut,” Nazar smiles. “It was the first time I felt fully what real Race Walking means. I had an overwhelming desire to leave the course as we passed exactly 10km mark and I could hardly bear the second half of the race and dreamed only about the finish. Maybe you will not believe me, but even now, I would wish to leave every race where I participate, but I have never left at 10 or 20km distances yet! For me, it’s better to cross finish line with 30th or 100th result than to see DNF in the row next to your surname.”
Kovalenko didn’t want to waive his principles during his first and last 50m race walk. It happened in Ivano-Frankivsk on 2 October 2007; even the coach could not stop Nazar, seeing his terrible condition.
On 10 May 2008 Kovalenko debuted in the national team at World Race Walking Cup in Cheboksary. “That was a pivotal time in my career,” Kovalenko says. “It looked like I found myself somewhere in space. That time, our team was too weak and we stayed too far from the start line. Such a start position gave feelings that we are nobody here, just athletes to make great World Cup statistics. I was shocked by the titles and achievements of athletes walking next to me, by their results under 1:20, by everything I saw around, but all those things didn’t depress me! Quite the contrary, I was inspired. I understood what hard work is waiting for me if, certainly, I want to be among the top walkers in the world.”
Finishing 59th in Cheboksary with a modest 1:26:04, Kovalenko started to train with double power. One month later, he finished second (first in U23 category) at 20km National Race Walk Championships in Sumy improved his PB to 1:24:21 and achieved the B qualifying standard for the Beijing Olympics. “I knew that I would not go to the Olympic Games, but when I heard that I’m the candidate to the national Olympic team I was proud! It was my challenge for the next four years and my motivation to work much harder.”
The following year, Kovalenko identified the European U23 Championships 2009 in Kaunas as the main competitions to prepare. He dreamed about a first victory at a major event and made maximum efforts to come to Lithuania among the top European U23 walkers. At the National Race Walking Championships in Sumy on 13 June, Nazar improved his PB to 1:22:24.
“Russian Aleksey Borzakin was the European U23 leader at that time and I was next to him,” Kovalenko recalls. “In any case I was ready to battle hard in Kaunas to take the highest stage on the podium, but fate commanded otherwise. I finished only 9th, far behind the winners and my personal best as well, clocking 1:25:47. Now I know our main mistake. Instead of reducing of my training loads to take a little rest before competitions, we perceptibly raised them and although I felt good, my body and muscles were too tired.”
But even after failure at the European U23 Championships, Kovalenko continued to raise his speed. As a result, he improved his PB at 10km three times during the year, bringing it to 39:56 at the National Race Walking Cup in Mukachevo on 31 October.
In 2010 they changed training methodology, laying special emphasis on intensity. It was very strenuous work, which gave great results but not for all the season just for a very few competitions. At the National Indoor Championships in Sumy on 20 February, Kovalenko won the 10,000m Race \walk with a new national indoor record of 39:20:52 and was full of hopes for the future outdoor season but his coach decided to change usual competitions schedule and Kovalenko went to compete at the international meeting in Lugano instead of the National Championships.
“I paid for these changes with the salary and grant I had as member of the national athletics team. It was absolutely the correct decision of our team management, as I blatantly breached a contract. Finally, I had no possibility to go to training camps for good preparation. My name was removed from the list of national team for all official competitions and all the season came to nothing,” Kovalenko explains.
That time, first serious misunderstandings appeared in his teamwork with Svitlana Kudlatska. Although Nazar improved his Personal Best to 1:21:34 on 20 March 2011 in Lugano and was selected for the national team for the European Race Walking Cup, tensions between him and the coach have been increasingly growing. In April 2011, Kovalenko made the irrevocable decision to leave the group.
“Even though I felt dispirited and it was hard psychologically, I wasn’t sorry about my choice,” Kovalenko says. “Certainly, it was difficult to be self-coaching. When the coach had under their control all my work, volumes and technical details I was very assiduous. When I was alone in practices I could become slack and didn’t force myself to do all the work I had planned before. I didn’t understand fully all responsibility which laid on my shoulders.”
As a result, Kovalenko was only 14th at the European Cup Race Walking in Olhão and this performance sobered him up like a cold shower. Fortunately, the senior coach of National Race Walking team, Anatoliy Solomin, saw Nazar’s potential and promised to put Kovalenko in the list for the Daegu World Championships if Nazar won the national trials. Such promises motivated Nazar to pull himself together and change his approach to the training process. At the National Race Walking Championships in Sumy on 18 June, nobody could stop Kovalenko on the way to his dream. He walked as if flying with spreading wings and took the easiest victory in his career to be selected for Daegu. One week later, Nazar performed at the international meeting in Dublin, where he finished 7th with a good 1:21:48.
“I like such meetings, as when I visited Dublin. I came there by invitation of famous walker Robert Heffernan. Unfortunately, he couldn’t finish that race because of injury, but then he supported me together with his wife during the second part of the race and I received from them great energy and the feeling that I’m part of the big international family of race walkers. Starting from these competitions, I began to appreciate friendship and mutual assistance of my rivals and reciprocate their feelings,” Kovalenko states.
Unfortunately, Nazar’s knowledge was not enough to make competent preparation for the World Championships in Daegu. He went to altitude training camp in Kislovodsk and tried different methods at each practice. Silly mistakes lead to the next failure in Daegu, where Kovalenko was 28th to finish with modest 1:25:50. Only the words of Ukrainian team’s head-coach Oleksandr Apaychev “Don’t give up! You are a God’-gifted walker! Start your preparation for London Olympics and forget all failures!” calmed Nazar a lot.
To prepare for London as well as possible Kovalenko, joined the Denys Tobias’ race walking group and moved to Donetsk. Training became cardinally different: smooth volumes instead of crazy intensity. It was too easy for Nazar to manage such method and he felt like he did only fifty per cent work.
However, at the beginning of March 2012, Kovalenko set two personal bests at 20km. First he finished 4th at the National Championships in Yevpatoriya with 2:21:30 to be last among Ukrainian walkers selected to the World Race Walking Cup in Saransk and then he clocked 1:19:55 in Lugano on 18 March finishing 4th.
The World Race Walking Cup in Saransk changed Nazar mentally. Kovalenko clocked 1:20:38, finished 6th and took team bronze together with Ruslan Dmytrenko, Ivan Losev and Ihor Lyashchenko. It was the greatest performance of Ukrainian walkers in history and it pumped confidence back into the team.
“I was impressed not only by our team’s achievements but also about my personal race,” Kovalenko explains. “I cannot say that it was easy to compete in Saransk. The course was bit difficult for me and I didn’t feel easy. However, when I overtook first Olympic champion Valeriy Borchin and then Mexican World bronze medallist Eder Sanchez, I felt like wings grew on my back. They were my idols and world Race Walk legends and I left them behind me at one of the most prestigious competitions in our event!”
After his successful performance in Saransk, Kovalenko looked forward to fight for a medal at the Olympic Games. But he was able to be in top group of London course only till the 8km mark and clocked 1:22:54, being 27th to finish.
“It was tragedy for me! Certainly, Olympic competitions are very special. My current coach (Bertrand Moulinet) says: “If you clocked 1:21 in the Olympic race, it’s equal to 1:20 at the World Cup or 1:19 at any other international meeting”. I cannot disclaim this truth. There is no fight at Olympic course -there is real war there! And we lost this war because of some mistakes in preparation, as all pupils of Denys Tobias’ group performed worse than we could.”
Despite the big, disappointment, Kovalenko was not in a hurry to end the teamwork with his new coach. They prepared for the 2013 season according to plan, but at the European Race Walking Cup in Dudince on 19 May, Nazar was defeated again. In Slovakia he was only 22nd to finish with a terrible time – 1:26:12.
“At the World University Games in Kazan I had another failure,” Kovalenko says. “My coach couldn’t find any explanation for such unsuccessful performances and I decided to change something in my life once more. Tobias is a young coach and he is growing and studying with his pupils. We gave a lot to each other, but that was a time to part company with him.”
Nazar decided to create his own team. He spoke to his wife, race walker Anna Kovalenko. He persuaded her to end her career and begin a coaching job. They took into the group two more walkers – Nazar’s younger brother Maksym Kovalenko and young Vladyslav Lobchenko. His friend and coach Sergiy Martynov took on the duties of administrative and organizational work. They invited to their team permanent doctors and masseurs and reached an agreement with French race walker Bertrand Moulinet to help them as well.
“After that, my life changed cardinally. Many people disappeared from my circle of contacts. Only congenial souls, family and real friends are around me now. My wife coaches me at home, Bertrand works with me in France. We started to train together, but he was injured last winter and now just helps me with preparation for 2014 season. Together we created a new training methodology and as a result, I set a new PB at the National Winter Race Walking Championships in Alushta - 1:19:46 – on 28 February. Yes, I was second to finish, but only because of one tactical mistake.”
In the middle of March, Kovalenko went to Font-Romeu (France) where Bertrand Moulinet organised for him a training camp with all necessary conditions.
“We made great job preparing for the World Race Walking Cup in Taicang and I believe that we’ll see first real results of our teamwork already in China. Bertrand taught me a lot of interesting things I had never heard before. He is very excited and waiting for these competitions no less than I am. He also says that I’ll perform in Taicang with double power and double energy and I’ll have two hearts during the race, because he’ll support me with all his heart and soul.”
In 2011, Nazar Kovalenko graduated from Pereyaslav-Khmelnytskyy National Teachers’ Training University as physical culture teacher and coach specialised in athletics. On 15 October 2011 he was married to Ukrainian race walker Anna Chernenko, national 10km junior record holder with 46:16. His younger brother Maksim (born in 1989) now trains together with Nazar in his wife’s group. Nazar has a two-year-old Scottish Fold cat named Mishka (Bear) who, like a family member, goes to many training camps and competitions with his owner.
Nazar Kovalenko believes in omens and is sure that his night dreams could predict competitions results. He has two lucky charms: a gold horseshoe on the small chain and his wedding ring. “I’m sure my wedding ring turns away me from the evil eye, as it was sanctified during our church the wedding ceremony,” Nazar explains.
Nazar is interestied in poker, playing the game with his friend and through the Internet. He also takes a great interest in the psychology and physiology of sport. He never raises his voice even in heated arguments. Nazar likes to sing and learn languages. He has a large collections of bells and exclusive alcoholic drinks from every corner of the globe.
In 2013, Nazar Kovalenko was decorated by Order of Danylo Halytskyy for his achievements in athletics.
20km: 1:19:46 (2014)
20km: 2007: 1:29:38; 2008: 1:24:21; 2009: 1:22:24; 2010: 1:22:23; 2011: 1:21:34; 2012: 1:19:55; 2013: 1:21:10; 2014: 1:19:46
2008: 59th World Race Walking Cup (Cheboksary)
2009 9th European U23 Championships (Kaunas)
2011 14th European Race Walking Cup (Olhão)
2011 28th World Championships (Daegu)
2012 6th World Race Walking Cup (Saransk)
2012 27th Olympic Games (London)
2013 22th European Race Walking Cup (Dudince)
2013 10th World University Games (Kazan)
Prepared by Liudmyla Iakusheva for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2014.