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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Powerful Paralympian Hopes to Lift Sydney Gold

Marina Dyanova flexes her impressive muscles, breathes in and out for a while, then lifts the 90-kilogram weight.

Weighing 87 kilograms and standing at 1.3 meters, she is almost the perfect female action figure, ready-made for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, which took place from Sept. 5 to Oct. 1.

But in fact, Dyanova is to compete in the women’s powerlifting event at the Paralympics, which begin next Wednesday in Sydney.

Despite being paralyzed from the waist down — she contracted polio at the age of 5 — Dyanova is simply a sports addict, keen on, among other things, arm wrestling and weightlifting.

Dyanova works as a faculty dean at Moscow’s Textiles University, but notwithstanding her hectic schedule, she is fully committed to her strenuous training program at a local gymnasium, drawing strength from the Olympic ideal of aspiring to the highest levels of human athletic achievement.

"We are trying to change the way people think about us [Paralympics participants]," says Dyanova, who will be making her first appearance at the Paralympics. "And our approach is to get involved in activities that normal people do."

While wrapping up another hectic morning training program in preparation for the games, she also admits the Paralympics are likely to be tough.

"There will be millions of spectators watching me lift those heavy weights," she says.

Dyanova, though, is not nervous, as she won both the Russian national and European championships last year. However, she is anxious to add Paralympic gold to her impressive collection.

Since beginning training for the games, Dyanova says she has been trying to take care of her body by watching her diet and quitting smoking and drinking, and her conditioning has improved.

"There are not many days I wake up exhausted, and I seem to fly out of bed almost everyday," she says with a smile. "I am feeling 100 percent physically; it’s just a question of dealing with all the psychological stuff."

Yury Peganov, her long-time trainer who also trains the other four women on the powerlifting team, has no doubts about Dyanova winning a medal.

Peganov says that Dyanova, now in her mid-40s and divorced, has remained patient, energetic and extremely determined in her bid to take advantage of the first opportunity offered by the Russian Olympic Committee for female Paralympic weightlifters to take part in the Games.

"It’s always good to show people what you are capable of doing," he says. "And it’s also good to apply yourself and keep on trying until you win a medal."

Peganov is confident his trainee’s overall physical health is good compared to Jennifer Adam of the United States and Faith Igbinebi of Nigeria, who won gold and silver, respectively, at the Paralympics in Atlanta. Both lifted 112 kilograms, and Dyanova has frequently managed to lift 110 in training.

To compete in Dyanova’s category, an athlete must have at least a 10 percent loss of function of their lower limbs.

The lifts, therefore, are performed lying down. After ensuring the body is in a position in which it can safely support such a large weight, the bar is handed to the athlete, who then must lift the weight.

Peganov says the most difficult part of the training sessions is to systematically and correctly position the body so as to prevent any dislocation of joints.

"It’s not a big headache, it’s a question of having patience and time," he says. "We understand each other. Obviously, there is no way I could force them [to overexert themselves] against their will and physical condition.

"You shouldn’t make fun of these people because they’re slow," he adds. "It’s obviously a nerve-wracking experience. But I’ve been training them for the past 1 1/2 years, and I have no doubts about their capabilities and level of performance."

Viktor Bagachov, a spokesman for the National Association of Weightlifters, says that the association still clearly needs a lot more outside help if the disabled are to do their best.

"Of course, money alone cannot guarantee absolute success in sports," he says. "But without money there is only one guarantee — you will achieve either little success or none at all."

Bagachov singles out Dyanova as the brightest hope, though he hopes the whole weightlifting team will return from Sydney with a good medal haul, as each of the five women has put in an unprecedented amount of training.

"The prospects for good performances are very high," he said. "We’re praying for them."