It was a long journey to the global podium for sprinter Ramon Gittens. This is how the barnstorming Bajan earned world indoor 60m bronze.

Coach knows

The youngest of four brothers, Ramon Gittens’ sporting experiences as a child were largely limited to kicking a football around with his siblings.

It was only when high school coach Alwyn Babb – former mentor to 2009 110m hurdles world champion Ryan Brathwaite – invited him to take part in the Inter-School Champs and he beat “another talented athlete” that the Bridgetown-born athlete realise he had a gift for running.

Within just six months he ran 10.92 to take bronze in the boys under-17 100m at the 2003 Carifta Games. He was still only 15-years-old.

Babb had found a talent, and Gittens’ track career was born.

Going to North Carolina

Gittens’ parents instilled him with a strong work ethic – his father is a plumber and his mother a security guard – and it showed as he honed his craft. In 2006 he landed silver (200m) and bronze (100m) medals at the Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships – both times conceding defeat to Yohan “The Beast” Blake. He ended that year by placing fifth in the 200m at the Beijing World Junior Championships.

A friend of Gittens advised him to join St Augustine’s University coach George Williams – now coach to 400m hurdlers Johnny Dutch, Bershawn Jackson and Jeffery Gibson – and the Bajan was recruited by the College based out of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Injury torpedo

Unfortunately, Gittens suffered an injury curse at college. To use his words, he “got hurt, hurt, hurt”.

His time was hamstrung by his hamstrings; he competed through groin, ankle and Achilles issues. Despite the disprution he showed genuine promise. In 2009 he ran a PB 10.18 en route to 100m silver at the NCAA – Division II final. He made the 2009 Berlin World Championships only for injuries to torpedo his ambitions as he meekly exited the 100m and 200m in the heats. His senior year ended in frustration with a pair of fourth place finishes in the 100m/200m at the NCAA Division II Championships.

“My coach told me, ‘if you stay healthy, imagine the things you can do’,” he says of that time.

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Gittens runs the 200m at the 2006 Beijing World Junior (U20) Championships

Calculated risk

Following graduation, Gittens stayed on to train with Williams in Raleigh for another year. That year he was crowned Barbados’ national champion and made it to the Olympics, only for a 10.35 clocking to end his campaign in the heats at the London Games. It proved a pivotal moment in his career.

“As I walked through the mixed zone and through the tunnel I thought maybe this is a time for a change,” he recalls. “I thought ‘I’m pretty good at accountancy, I can get a job that pays seven figures without the stress’.

“Yet in conversation with Ian Weakley [his now manager] I told him stories of racing Blake and Bolt. Ian then said, ‘if what you are telling me is true, you have the talent, you just need the opportunity’.”

Gittens sought a fresh start and, with the help of Weakley, teamed up with a new coach, former Jamaican sprinter Patrick Jarrett.

“Patrick had never coached anyone else, so I took a huge leap of faith,” Gittens says of the decision.

The long game

From late 2012, they worked on a patient four-year plan, starting with total reconstruction of Gittens’ sprint technique. The steady-as-she-goes approach gradually paid dividends.

In 2013 he set a blistering PB 10.02 and reached the 100m semi-finals of the Moscow World Championships. The following year he reached the Commonwealth 100m final, placing eighth – another small step in the right direction.

In 2015 he snared Pan American Games 100m silver, weeks later missing the final at the Beijing World Championship 100m by a single place.

A winning team

Jarrett might be his lead coach but Gittens – who trains alongside the women’s world indoor 60m champion Barbara Pierre – can draw from a vast well of experienced people as part of his team. There is assistant coach Kesrick Fraser; Brooks Johnson, who oversees training when in Florida; mentor Gregory Haughton, an Olympic and world 400m bronze medallist; and manager Ian Weakly, a Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles bronze medallist.

“I always hear from all of them before a big race,” he explains. “I had a three-hour conversation with Greg, who helped me mentally prepare ahead of the World Indoor Championships. I am very grateful to be around such an influential group.”

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Outdoors this season, Gittens has raced six times over 100m, getting faster with each outing. His SB 10.03 ranks him in the world's top 25

Battle ready

This year, because of the cold winter in Raleigh, Gittens spent a longer spell with the sun on his back training under Johnson’s watchful eye in Florida.

“You are looking good in practice, you are going to surprise them,” assistant Coach Fraser commented when seeing the fitter, stronger Gittens after his winter training.

His opening indoor race of the season saw him clip 0.07 from his lifetime best with a 6.61. Then Jarrett pulled an interesting tactic, making Gittens settle in Portland more than a week before the championships began.

“When you go into battle you have to have a game plan,” explains Gittens who cites paint balling and go kart racing as two of his favourite activities away from the track.

“I arrived [in Portland] the weekend of the US Championships. It helped me become more familiar and comfortable with the environment.”

Dreams can come true

It had been a long and winding road but finally, at the age of 28, he mounted his first global podium in Portland.

Running a handy 6.61 for second in his heat, then wiping 0.07 from his national record to record 6.53 in the semi, matching the time of America’s Trayvon Bromell, who was awarded victory. In a lightning quick, super-close final, Gittens trimmed a further 0.02 from his best to take bronze behind Bromell and Asafa Powell in the final.

“It felt so good,” he recalls. “It felt like all that hard work and time made sense. I wasn’t being lied to. My dreams can come true.”

PORTLAND THROWBACK: "Divvying up the medals was a task akin to etching the Greek dictionary on a pinhead"

Ramon Gittens Podium ()