Feature: Dual National Ronaldo Griffiths Grows Over Time

There was a time when Ronaldo Griffiths was dominating the midget division with his club team.

Then he announced his arrival on the high school scene, breaking the freshman 400-intermediate hurdle state record, not once but twice.

The first, a 53.28 at the PSAL Championship at Icahn Stadium in late May, came in 2014. The latter, a time of 52.61 -- which was also the freshman national record -- took place at the USATF Jr. Olympics in Texas that July.

The Clara Barton senior, who has dual citizenship in both Jamaica and the United States, has had some hiccups the past couple of years, plateauing for a time. But he finally had his breakthrough early this March, running 51.92 in the prelims at the Carifta trials, an annual competition for Caribbean nations founded by the Caribbean Free Trade Association.

He ran 52.16 later that same day in the finals. His second place finish assured him a spot on the Jamaican National Team, competing this upcoming weekend in Curacao. (Watch Live On FloTrack)

"He had no 400 hurdle training going into it," Clara Barton coach Randall Joseph said. "It was just based on indoor training."

Hear from Griffiths in 2015

Everything came naturally for Griffiths as a youth runner. After moving to Long Island from Jamaica at six years old, he bounced around for awhile, moving to the Bronx, then back to Jamaica, and then to Philadelphia, before finally settling in Brooklyn in third grade.

One day that year, he saw some kids running at the school and asked the gym teacher what was going on.

"I told him I could beat all of them," Griffiths said laughing. "So we signed a permission slip and I joined the (club) team."

Griffiths remembers his first race, a 1500m run in sweatpants where he left the whole field behind.

"That's when I got my first running shoes (red Nike spikes)," Griffiths said. "I was really happy because I knew I could run faster."

Griffiths continued with that success, starting to learn a bit and traveling more -- but having fun.

He did a whole range of events. He said he started with distance races, and then also found success at national meets in the pentathlon.

Once in high school, Griffiths popped on the scene in the 400m hurdles, setting those records.

After a good sophomore year, Griffiths decided he wanted to play basketball the following winter.

"I was pretty good at basketball, but I decided in January to start training with the team again," Griffiths said.

When returning from basketball, it was time to get back into shape. It also meant losing his "basketball weight" as Joseph put it. Griffiths said he was close to 200 pounds and both athlete and coach knew the spring was going to be a process to return to form.

Griffiths had a good spring as a junior, placing fourth in the 110-high hurdles and fifth in the 400-hurdles at the state championship, but he wanted more.

"My freshman year, the plan went well," Griffiths said. "My coach kept telling me about the big picture."

This fall, he ran cross country, knowing the base training would help down the road.  It was a tactic popular in the PSAL, with sprint athletes like Richard Rose participating in HS as well.

"I actually take cross country very seriously. Most sprinters don't. I have no problem doing the long runs," Griffiths said. "The races are painful for most of it, until that last straightaway where I always had the best kick out of everybody, especially the long one at Van Cortlandt Park."

The big picture seemed to come into focus this year. He said he learned from his experiences at both the state championships and Penn Relays. After three straight years of podium finishes at the NY Championship in June, Griffiths has no other goal but to be on the top of the podium.

"My main goal is to win the state championship and go after the state record this year," Griffiths said. "In the moment at those meets, I wasn't in the right state of mind. My past two years I've made mistakes."

Rai Benjamin of Mount Vernon currently holds the state record at 49.97.

Joseph varies the races for Griffiths, with the long range plan in mind. He ran the 55m hurdles and the 200m for speed and hurdle work. He also ran 1:22.50 over 600m this year.

"He understands the sport. He's a fan of the sport," Joseph said. "He sees the necessity of it (the 600) to the hurdles."

The PSAL provides camaraderie for a number of athletes that originate from the Caribbean. Griffiths has great pride in representing his native Jamaica this weekend, and relishes the opportunities provided to compete against athletes with similar backgrounds.

"Back home, when kids think about America, they think about New York City. They think that is America. A lot more Caribbean people are going to settle in Philly or New York, where there are more Caribbean people," Griffiths said.

"It's a great environment. You get to race kids that you know have the hunger that everybody has from back home. So now in the states, we are friends off the track, but once you're on the track, you are enemies until the race is finished. We have that kind of determination."

That determination has helped bolster Griffiths to new heights.

About 10 days before the Carifta trials, Griffiths had one of his best workouts, running 55 seconds for 400m, 39 for 300m, four 200m repeats in 25-26 and then finished with a 52 on his final 400.

"At practice, he works hard. You don't get that good without working hard at practice," Joseph said. "I knew he was ready to run fast."

That workout gave Griffiths the confidence he needed to compete at the trials.

Now having qualified, the goal is to run faster.

"That workout showed me I had a lot of strength," he said. "I did that same workout again last week and I actually did it better, so hopefully that helps this weekend."

Griffiths, who also wants to qualify to represent the Jamaican Junior Team at the Pan Am Games this summer, has had to nurse a sprained ankle suffered in gym class a couple of weeks ago, but says he feels better and is ready to go.

"I took care of it. It feels better," he said. "The chiropractor said it wasn't severe and I was taking my time getting back into workouts."

Joseph knows he is ready to run fast as well, knowing he can perform with the best down there, but also noting that it is still early in the season.

"We are not completely ready yet," he said. "I think he can run 52 again. Those guys down there are in their championship season. They are peaking. We have two months to go here before he will be ready to run his best."

Benjamin is on both of their minds. Joseph is working on switching Griffiths from 15 steps through six hurdles to 16 and alternating legs throughout in an effort to improve going forward.

"Rai was taller than Ronaldo," Joseph said. "He was about 6-2 or 6-3. Ronaldo is about 6-0, so we need to do things a little different."

Benjamin was also a contributing factor to Griffiths participation this weekend.

"Somebody had brought up Carifta to me. I did some research and saw the good competition," he said. "I saw Rai went there and I decided I wanted to go. So I decided to skip states to try and qualify."

The move worked out. Now it's time to think about the championship itself.

"I just want to stay humble going into this race," Griffiths said. "I just want to either win or better my PR (personal record), and continue to get closer to that record."

See Ronaldo Griffiths, Jyles Etienne, and plenty more compete with the best at the Carifta Games.