When former Team GB weightlifter Dyana Altenor received a call inviting her to carry the Queen’s Baton for the Commonwealth Games as part of the Platinum Jubilee, the memories of her career in what was considered a male-dominated sport at the time came flooding back.
Unfortunately, Dyana was judging a weightlifting a competition in Albania and was unable to join the royal celebrations, but to her surprise the opportunity presented itself again when she was invited to carry the baton at Tonbridge Castle in Kent on 7 July ahead of the Games, where she will be officiating in the weightlifting later this month.
Dyana, from Tower Hamlets, is a Lecturer in Public Services at City and Islington College (CANDI), which includes providing fitness training to students looking to get into the Armed Forces, emergency services, security, prison service and other related careers. It’s not too a far cry from her start in sports development, supporting teams of boys to take part in the London Youth Games.
Determined to prove that she too could excel as a weightlifter, she sought advice from coach George Manners, who represented Great Britain at the 1960 Tokyo Olympics in the light-heavyweight category. After speaking with him, he told her, “Go for it, give it a go.”
In 1962 and 1966, George had won silver medals at what was then called the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Having the backing of someone who had competed at the highest level was a huge boost and Dyana wanted to emulate George’s success and bring home the medals.
Forty years ago, weightlifting was a predominantly male environment, and any female donning a weightlifting belt was often called a body builder. They were simply not recognised as a weightlifter, let alone a potential Olympic contender. Official forms of female strength sports didn’t come to the fore until powerlifting started in 1978. Women were only allowed to compete at the World Weightlifting Championships for the first time in 1987.
Undeterred, Dyana stepped forward to make her mark in the sport, and prove she was ready for the big stage. At times it was psychologically challenging, and the training was relentless, six days a week, whilst holding down a day job.
When Dyana competed in the Commonwealth Games in 2002, it was the first time women had competed in weightlifting in the Games. Now, 20 years later, she is heading back to officiate in Birmingham where 72 nations will be hoping to take home a clutch of medals.
After Dyana retired from competing she naturally progressed into officiating. Several colleagues, coaches and even the team doctor often suggested she do the training, which takes five years to become an international referee.
Armed with the weapons to succeed, not least her vast experience and knowledge, it was the obvious next step. Her passion, dedication and love of the sport never waned, and she knew her life would always feature weightlifting in one way or another.
“Officiating is incredibly exciting, from the moment you arrive at the venue you can sense the anticipation hanging in the air, and the atmosphere when the crowds get involved is something I will never forget,” she said.
“Each competitor has three attempts at the snatch, and the clean and jerk for each of the weight divisions. If their arms are bent, and not fully locked out, it’s a no-lift. Any overruling must be decided by a jury to ultimately make the final decision.”
Dyana is looking forward to refereeing in Birmingham later this month, the third Commonwealth Games to be hosted in England following London in 1934 and Manchester in 2002. Team GB have some impressive female talent in the weightlifting, and Dyana is hoping to see the likes of Emily Campbell, Fraer Morrow, Zoe Smith and Deborah Alawode on the podium.
“They’re a young team, but we have Emily leading the pack, I think they will do well for us,” she said.
Being back at the Commonwealth Games will be an emotional occasion for Dyana, a flashback to her first Games in 2002 when she couldn’t quite understand how she had got to that stage. She recalls that she had an overwhelming feeling of doubt – could she do it and was she good enough? She remembers realigning her mindset, telling herself she could do it, she had put in the hours, done the brutal training regime, and deserved to be there.
On being invited to carry the Queen’s Baton, Dyana said: “I was surprised when I received the call. I had been nominated, although the nomination was anonymous, I will never know who put my name forward, but it’s such an honour and I will carry the baton with pride.”
After a couple of challenging years enduring the pandemic, Dyana is ready to snatch the chance to be back in front of the weightlifting stage, doing what she does best.
Dyana is also a proud member of our Public Services lecturing team – helping students learn the skills to secure well-paid jobs in the public services. These are some of society’s most essential roles, including the police, ambulance, paramedics, the fire service, the prison service and the Armed Forces.
Our courses provide a comprehensive overview of how these services are run, giving you the knowledge and skills needed to work in the sector.
Find out more about Public Services courses and apply here.