Silver bullet

Leslie Deniz

Photo By Tom Angel

When Leslie Deniz, now Chico State University’s police chief, won the silver medal for discus in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, she was the first American woman to medal in that event since 1932. Deniz, then 22 and attending Arizona State University while training at least five hours a day, was one of the first to throw in the event and held her lead of 212 feet, 9 inches, waiting and watching until Ria Stalman of Holland threw 214 feet, 5 inches to edge her out for the gold medal. In Athens this year, eyes were on U.S. discus-throwers Aretha Hill and Stephanie Brown to see if they could match Deniz’ feat, but neither medaled.

Have you been watching the Olympics?

Yes. Pretty much gymnastics, volleyball, softball and a little bit of soccer. And, of course, track and field.

What’s been your favorite 2004 Olympic scandal?

Scandal?! I’d say the backstroke, where [the swimmer was accused of doing a “dolphin kick."]. … And [in men’s gymnastics] when the crowd booed to the point that, by appearance, it looked like the judges changed the scores because of the display. We didn’t have the controversies that they have now.

Did you wish your Olympics had been in another country?

No. I wanted to stay home—that home-field advantage. When it comes to the Olympics, you’re focused.

Why are some athletes so bummed when they get silver?

It really depends on the individual. Some people are thrilled to have just made the team. Others say, ‘I just want to get a medal.’ Others want to get the gold medal; their whole life is dedicated toward that. … It’s tough to come in second, and you hear the national anthem from another country. That was a very empty feeling for me.

Did you think of trying again in 1988?

No. Discus is an event that you normally hit your peak in your late 20s, early 30s as far as technique. But I knew I wanted to get on with my career in law enforcement. There were two goals I would have had left: a world record and a gold medal in ‘88, and I knew I didn’t want to train another four years.

How did you end up all by yourself on a Wheaties box?

There was a "Search for Champions," and a number of different people wrote in. I still have it, and no, the Wheaties aren’t in it. [As for where I keep my medal], you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Normally, I keep it in a safe place.