PROVO — An Olympian and a freshman steal the show.
Two showtime-caliber performances came out of the BYU Robison Invitational track and field meet Saturday at BYU: A thrilling performance by defending Olympic gold medalist long jumper Jeff Henderson in a cameo, and the second-best women’s javelin toss in BYU history by freshman Ashton Riner in her first home meet ever.
Henderson had a leap of 8.44 meters (27 feet, 8 ¼ inches) in the long jump, and that became BYU’s stadium and meet record — and the best mark in the world this year. He almost cleared the sandbox.
Henderson put on a show for track fans with his unique warmup, his explosive sprint and monster launch. He had an amazing time in the air and tremendous finishing stretch, all a display in this world-class effort well worth the watch.
“I haven’t jumped for a year,” said Henderson, who was accompanied by his coach, world-famous jump expert Al Joyner. “I was working on little things, just trying to get my groove, find my rhythm. In a small meet like this, it’s hard to find your niche.”
He said that between his jumps he made adjustments and tried to tweak his technique, making little changes like placement of his feet.
Henderson said he loved Provo.
“People didn’t know I was coming and maybe were a little surprised," he said. "People here were really nice. This is a great place, I like it. It would be a nice place to live.”
Henderson’s personal best is 8.58, a mark he set as medalist in the 2015 Pan American Games. A native of North Little Rock, Arkansas, Henderson competed in Provo for the first time. He sought to set the IAAF record in Utah’s altitude. Mike Powell set the world record at 8.95 in the 1991 World Championships.
The 8.44 by Henderson set aside the world’s best mark this year of 8.41 by South African Luvo Manyonga, whom Henderson beat in Rio by one centimeter.
Ashton Riner is the latest javelin sensation at BYU, a first-year athlete out of Connell High in Connell, Washington, the same school that gave the Cougars football player brothers Spencer and Matt Hadley.
Riner set BYU’s No. 4 women’s javelin mark last week in Long Beach of 50.94 meters. On Saturday, she moved that mark to the second best all-time with a throw of 52.37 meters, 171-feet, 9 inches. That mark beat second-place Megan Glasmann (unattached) at 44.98 (147-6 ¾).
“The goal we set for Ashton this year was 167,” said her father, Wayne Riner, who is a major sports coach at Connell High.
“She’s a beast,” said Wayne Riner. “Her coach says the sky’s the limit for her.”
Riner, who was named after a billboard her uncles saw on the way to the hospital for her delivery (Ashton Financial), is an impressive athlete with a rocket throw and growing power base.
“In third grade, my dad said, ‘Ashton, you’re going to be my javelin thrower.’ I didn’t even know what the javelin was but he said ‘you’re going to be my javelin thrower and you are going to go to BYU.’ I said, ‘OK, Dad.’”
She started throwing the javelin her freshman year of high school, lifting weights every day when her dad took her to school an hour early. Several times a week, she would travel 45 minutes to receive coaching from Wayne’s acquaintances.
Ashton isn’t afraid of calling out her siblings as to why her dad picked her to be the power child.
“Well, you see, all my siblings are very small and I was the bigger child, so he said, ‘Oh, no, you aren’t going to be a runner, you are going to be my thrower.”
Ashton Riner’s personal record as a state champion in Washington was 156-7, but she received little coaching, never went to a camp and didn’t even attend any BYU summer sports camps.
“My dad has been the driving force in pushing me,” said Ashton. “My mom has always said to me, ‘you can do it, you did great,’ but my dad has always told me I can do better and I have to go further.”
Ashton said two things Saturday led to her personal best at the Robison Invitational.
“My family drove 12 hours to see me play, and that really helped. Also, I’d been working on opening up my hips early all week long and I think that really helped.”
Ashton believes she had a throw that she thought might have moved her to No. 1 on BYU’s women’s list but she threw the javelin too high. Last week, she did 50.94 meters. Saturday, she marked 52.37. BYU’s best women’s mark ever was 53.16 set by Lindsey Johnson in 2002.
“I hope I can do what I did today in regionals and qualify for nationals,” she said.
That might just be in the works for this budding star.
Correction: An earlier version inaccurately reported that Wayne Riner holds BYU's high jump record, which was based on misinformation obtained from Ashton Riner's athlete bio on BYU's website. Dave Stapleton holds the record in the high jump at BYU.