Kenyans mourn Bett's death

By Denis Okeyo: Thursday, August 9th 2018 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Athletics
400m hurdler Nicholas Bett's brother Aaron Bett (centre) breaks down at the Eldoret Hospital Mortuary in Eldoret. Nicholas Bett died in a road accident at Sochoi area along the Nabkoi-Kapsabet road. 08-08-2018. PHOTO BY: KEVIN TUNOI

At the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China, Kenyan stars entered the iconic Birds Nest Stadium boasting 45 gold medals Kenya had collected since inception in 1983 - but without gold in sprint races.

And Nicholas Bett, who had just quit volleyball for 400m hurdles, did the unthinkable: Lining up in lane nine, Bett  blew away the strong field and struck Kenya’s first gold medal in the sprints. He broke the then Erick Keter’s 22-year national record setting 47.79 mark.  

That’s how he attracted global attention. But yesterday morning, the athletics world woke up to shocking news; Bett is no more, the 28-year died in a horror road accident in Lessos, along Eldoret-Kapsabet road in Nandi County while driving home.

He had just arrived from Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria where Kenya topped the medal standings. Bett, who was a traffic police officer in Kisumu, made it to the finals but picked injury that saw him drop out 60 metres to the finish line.

Athletics Kenya Nairobi branch chairman and AK Youth Chairman, Barnabas Korir, who had talked with the star athlete on phone on Tuesday termed the death as shocking and big loss to athletics fraternity.

Villagers view the wreckage of vehicle belonging to Nicholas Bett, the former World 400m hurdles champion vehicle after an accident that killed him at Lesos junction in Nandi on 8th August, 2018.

“We had a chat with him on Tuesday morning and told me he was going to the hospital before coming to meet me at the AK offices but he never came only to receive sad news from his father, who is my good friend, that his son Nicholas had died in an accident. I’m shocked, Bett was an inspiration to many Kenyans especially after his 2015 Beijing victory in 400m hurdles,” said Korir.

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AK Athletes’ Representative and 2013 World 3,000m steeplechase champion Milcah Chemos, who visited the scene of accident, said: “I went to the scene of accident upon receiving the sad news. I am in shock that we have lost a champion.”

Betsy Saina, the 2018 Paris Marathon champion, paid tribute to the fallen sprinter who made his international debut at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The passing on of Bett has shocked us here in Iten. It’s unfortunate to lose such a young athlete. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family,” said Saina.       

Permanent Secretary for Sports and Culture Kirimi Kaberia described the loss as terrible and a setback to the athletics fraternity worldwide.

“I received the news just as I was leaving home for work. I was so shocked I had to go back to the house to take a seat. This is a terrible and untimely loss to Kenya and the world of athletics. For now, we just pray for his family to be strong at this moment,” said Kaberia, who welcomed back Team Kenya from Nigeria on Monday.

Athletics Kenya also paid tribute to the fallen star. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and to the entire Athletics fraternity.”

National Olympic Committee of Kenya president Paul Tergat also conveyed his condolences to Bett’s family saying the former world 400m hurdles champion was extremely talented.

“Nicholas demonstrated his skill at the highest level during the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, when Kenya topped the world. He opened an uncharted territory for budding track athletes in the barriers event and was definitely a huge inspiration to the millions of youth with potential in our country.

“His passing on stands out as a huge loss to the family and the entire sporting fraternity and citizens of this nation,” said Tergat.

Aleck Skhosana, President of Athletics South Africa said: “This is sad news and most difficult to swallow.”