UMaine Grad, Assistant Coach Competes at Olympics

Editor’s note: University of Maine assistant track and field coach and alum Viktoriya Rybalko placed 20th out of 32 competitors in the preliminary round of the long jump at the London Olympics. Rybalko, representing her native Ukraine, leaped 6.29 meters that put her 10th in her group and 20th overall for the preliminary round. The top-12 jumpers from the preliminary round advanced to the finals. A July 25 news release has more.

As a 2003 University of Maine graduate who returned to Orono earlier this year to serve as an assistant coach for the Black Bears track and field team, Viktoriya Rybalko considers UMaine to be her second home. This summer, however, she is spending most of her time in Europe. First, Rybalko was in her native Ukraine in order to qualify for the Olympics in the long jump. Having accomplished that goal, she will now head to London to compete in her second Summer Games.

Rybalko finished 12th in the long jump during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“Why not?” Rybalko says of her decision to attempt to qualify for a second Summer Olympics. “Participation in the Olympics has always been one of the highest achievements for any athlete, including myself.”

The qualifying rounds of competition in the women’s long jump begin Aug. 7 at the Olympic Stadium in London. Rybalko’s personal-best jump of 6.95 meters, which she registered on June 13 during a meet in Yalta, Ukraine, is ranked 16th in the world this year. The distance improved her previous personal best of 6.87 meters.

Rybalko, known as Vika, was named an All-American in 2003 after she finished second in the long jump at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She won 10 America East individual titles while also leading the UMaine women’s team to the 2003 New England Championship.

In addition to her athletic successes, Rybalko was also a top student while at UMaine. She earned the 2003 “M” Club Dean Smith Award, given to Maine’s top scholar-athlete. Time management and discipline were two key life lessons Rybalko learned during her time in Orono.

“As a student-athlete you learn to integrate academics and athletics until it becomes a way of life,” she says. “The two aspects of intellectual and physical development are important on a day-to-day basis. Learning how to fit everything in one day can be a challenge, but nothing is impossible. Successes in academics definitely help me to move forward as an athlete and a coach. I enjoy everything that I do.”

Since her graduation, Rybalko has earned her master’s degree in microbiology from the University of Rochester and is pursuing her doctorate in exercise science at the University of Texas.

Rybalko’s passion for track and field, her personal training experiences and her years as a coach led her to the field of exercise science. Her major interest is muscle injuries, with a focus on muscle regeneration. Following the Olympics, Rybalko intends to return to UMaine as an assistant coach, while her advisor at the University of Texas establishes a research collaboration at UMaine, which will allow her to continue working on her Ph.D.

“UMaine is my second home. I love everyone there: coaches, staff, administrators and most of all, my athletes,” Rybalko says. “I definitely want to contribute as much as I can to make a difference and help my athletes to learn how to set and achieve their goals. It is the greatest lesson in life any coach can give.”

Contact: Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777