Benefield: El Molino’s Lani Gaspar speeds into record books

Meet the senior football player-turned-track star who's become the Empire's top sprinter.|

Poor Larry Richardson.

Back in 1975, Richardson set the El Molino record books ablaze with his speed and athleticism on the track.

Now, 40 years on, Lani Gaspar has Richardson’s marks in his sights and is poised to replace L-A-R-R-Y with L-A-N-I in the record books.

Gaspar, a senior, has already taken over the school 100-meter dash record and is knocking on the door of Richardson’s 200-meter mark. For giggles, he is going to race the 400 meters this weekend for the first time in his life because he thinks he can take that school record, too.

“You can only do four events, otherwise we would use him in everything,” El Molino track coach Ryan Hopkins said.

Gaspar heads into the Twilight Invite at Santa Rosa Junior College on Saturday having wrapped up a stellar showing at the ultra-competitive Stanford Invitational last weekend. He took sixth in the 100 meters and seventh in his flight in the triple jump.

Gaspar currently has the Empire best this season in the 100 at 10.81 and the 200 at 22.07. He’s also tops in the triple jump - by two feet - at 42 feet, 8½ inches.

He’s ranked No. 1 in the 100 meters in the North Coast Section and No. 2 in the 200 meters - and that’s only because his fastest time of the year didn’t count officially because of a timing snafu, according to Hopkins. Gaspar’s current 100-meter best? It ranks eighth in California for wind-legal races, Hopkins said.

And he’s not just quick amongst his peers. His times stack up against the fastest sprints ever recorded in the Redwood Empire.

Gaspar is currently listed as owner of the second fastest 100-meter time in Empire history in fully automated, wind-legal races. In the 200 meters, he’s seventh best all time.

“I knew I was fast, but I didn’t know how fast,” Gaspar said of his rise on the track scene.

And the answer to “how fast” keeps getting re-answered. He’s cutting time like it’s nothing.

“I’m pretty surprised at how much better my times have gotten,” he said.

Gaspar, for one, put some of his rise down to being a complete novice in sophomore year and not too much better in his junior campaign.

“Last year I had no idea what I was doing,” Gaspar said.

He is so stocked with natural talent that until this year he just leaned in and bolted.

Gaspar gives oodles of credit to Hopkins, who has crafted a training plan suited to both Gaspar’s strengths and his weaknesses.

Hopkins knew Gaspar had the engine and explosiveness to succeed on some level without even trying. But both coach and runner wanted success on a grander scale. So they started working on technique, started focusing on Gaspar’s core muscles and power development.

Gaspar, who was a skilled wide receiver and cornerback for the Lions’ football team, initially signed up for track to bolster his football skills. Accustomed to running simply to evade or deliver tackles, he had to rethink how to run without a ball tucked into the crook of his arm and how to keep his head down and not look for someone seeking to take him out at the knees.

Now he thinks about keeping his face muscles loose, staying cognizant of where his elbows are peaking and how his head is positioned.

“His stuff has really helped,” Gaspar said of Hopkins’ training routine. “It’s pretty much all him. It just works.”

Gaspar is a phenomenal natural talent. But he’s a workhorse, too.

He’s a regular in the weight room and doesn’t need prodding to go hard at practice.

“As fast as he is, he can beat everyone around here,” Hopkins said.

It’s Gaspar’s work ethic that pushes him to the next level.

“Lani is an extremely hard worker,” Hopkins said.

But he’s got that sprinter’s swagger, too. Maybe that is why he’s going to line up for the 400-meter dash this weekend - his first try at that race ever - with an eye on Richardson’s 40-year-old school mark.

By season’s end, Gaspar wants his name etched all over those records.

With the trajectory his sprint career is on, the folks at El Molino had better start practicing. The name is L-A-N-I G-A-S-P-A-R.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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