Kenya’s sprints hotshot and 400m hurdles world champion Nicholas Bett was one of the many unfancied members of 50-person Team Kenya athletes heading to the biennial IAAF event in China until he struck gold Tuesday afternoon, becoming the country’s first ever winner in that discipline at the world level.
The 23-year-old police officer’s rise to stardom bears stark similarities with Commonwealth Games champion Julius Yego who also became the first Kenyan to strike gold in a javelin competition beyond Kenyan borders.
Yego honed his spearing skills through social media site, YouTube, earning the nickname ‘YouTube Man’. Interestingly, Bett who participated in last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland credits the social media site for part of his development in the race.
South African sprints coach Hennie Koetze began imparting hurdling skills to Bett through emails, text messages and referring him to YouTube for demonstrations after noting the father of three’s potential during the Commonwealth Games.
“Technically, we changed two things. We changed his position from the blocks so he was getting to the first hurdle quicker. When he was running before, he would run 13 strides in the first three hurdles, then 14 and 15 after, but in Kenyan trials this year, he ran 13 all the way through,” Jukka Harkonen, his representative told IAAF When Bett stormed to victory in 48.29 in Nairobi earlier this month, they knew the formula was working, and though Harkonen was still surprised by how fast Bett ran yesterday, he wasn’t shocked by him winning gold.
Bett originally played volleyball at East African regional champions Cheptil High School before plunging into athletics. He started his running career with 110m hurdles but switched to the longer distance after realizing where he could excel.
Together with his brother Haron Koech, he trained on murram fields of Chepkoilel, qualifying for the world champions where he nearly missed the finals after stumbling in the last jump.