Nicholas Bett, the former world 400 metres hurdles champion who died in a road accident on the Cengalo-Lessos-Kapsabet road on Wednesday, had been signed up by a professional athletics club in Turkey.
Close friends said the 2015 world champion had been working with Fenerbahce Istanbul for seven months, and was to start representing it in Turkish inter-club competitions.
Bett was driving alone and was on his way home from Nairobi after returning from Nigeria, where he represented the country in the African Athletics Championships in Asaba, Delta State.
Speaking at the scene of the accident, his father, Joseph Boit, said he had lost a young, promising son.
“I’m really sad that I have lost my third-born child, who had a bright future. He was hard-working and I know he has left a big gap in the athletics fraternity, where he was crucial in the short races,” said Mr Boit, the Uasin Gishu Athletics Kenya branch chairman.
SCENE OF CRASH
Bett, who was driving his Toyota Landcruiser Prado, was thrown out of the car when it overturned after hitting a speed bump.
Ms Mary Sitienei, who lives near the scene of the crash, was the first person to arrive at the site.
“I was doing my morning chores at around 6.30am when I heard two loud bangs from the road. I ran there and found a man lying beside the car, which had rolled, and started screaming for help,” she said. “I then called the assistant chief and asked him to inform the police at Lessos.”
The athlete’s body was taken to the Kapsabet County Referral Hospital before being transferred to the Eldoret Hospital Mortuary.
Mr Boit was accompanied to the scene by Bett’s brother, Aaron Koech. A hurdler like Bett, Koech was Kenya’s overall captain at the Asaba championships, where he was part of the team that sensationally won the 4x400 metres relay gold medal. Bett and Koech were both in Kenya’s relay team at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, in April.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy William Ruto sent their condolences to the family, as did Athletics Kenya President Jack Tuwei and Abraham Mutai, the head of Kenya’s delegation to Asaba.
“Deeply saddened by the death of former 400m hurdles World Champion Nicholas Bett, who died today in a tragic road accident.
Bett earned the country great honours in his outstanding victories. My deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to his family, relatives and friends,” President Kenyatta said on Twitter. Deputy President Ruto tweeted: "The passing on of World Champion Nicholas Bett is tragic and a big loss to his family, friends, Kenya and the global athletics fraternity. He made history in 2015 by being the first Kenyan gold medallist over a short distance in Beijing, China."
Mr Mutai, who is also Athletics Kenya’s Central Rift Branch chairman, said the athlete was a trailblazer." He is the first athlete to open the way in the 400 metres hurdles and since then, Kenya has been doing well in the sprints. We are sending our condolences to the family,” said Mr Mutai, who led the Kenyan team to the August 1 to 5 meet in Asaba.
Former National Olympic Committee of Kenya president and Olympic legend Kipchoge Keino also joined the mourners at the mortuary, terming Bett's death unfortunate.
Bett entered the history books by winning the first gold medal for Kenya in the 400 metres hurdles at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing. In 2014, he had won bronze in Marrakesh, Morocco, at the African Championships, before aiding his team to another bronze in the 4x400m relay event.
He leaves behind a widow, Gladys, and two children, Nicole Chepkoech (six) and Narius Chepchirchir (three).
The athlete’s mother Esther Boit and wife Gladys were overcome with emotion after viewing his body at the Eldoret Hospital mortuary, where they were joined by several world-beating athletes, family and friends. Among them was world and Olympic 3,000 metre steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto, who described Bett as a hardworking athlete.
Former World Champion in 800 metres champion Janeth Jepkosgei said she received the news with shock and termed the incident “unfortunate to the athletics family”.