Despite posting a Did Not Finish (DNF) in his final race on earth, 2015 IAAF World Champion in 400m hurdles Nicholas Bett left indelible footprints on the tracks and hearts of many.
Bett’s sudden demise on Wednesday morning left pain, shock and devastation to his family, friends and sports fraternity at large. He was on a journey back to see his family after three weeks out camping with the national team then representing the country in Asaba, Nigeria, at the latest edition of the Africa Athletics Championships that concluded on Sunday.
For a recent world champion who gained prominence for going against the grain to win gold in a race uncharacteristic of Kenyans, his presence in the team that made headlines in Nigeria was almost anonymous.
He was reserved and went about his business almost unnoticeably. In Asaba, he shared a room at the Hotel Benzia with another introverted athlete in Bethwel Lagat, a long and triple jumper.
Team-mates recall a philosophical figure who cautioned younger athletes from engaging in doping and working hard to win races. The athlete suffered emotional loss with the demise of his eldest child early this year and avoided the limelight. At times he cast a subdued figure not interested in what the rest were buzzing over.
Despite his lofty standing as a world champion, he was among the athletes who complied with laid down rules in camp and reported for training on time. A number of athletes defied the reporting time and drew the wrath of Athletics Kenya, some almost kicked out of the team.
“Even in his humility he was still an inspirational figure. He was a great listener and often engaged the new athletes on do’s and don’ts in the sport.” Deputy team leader Peter Angweny said. Angwenyi recalls Bett expressing optimism over better support from the government after arrival from Nigeria.
“He was greatly encouraged by the government’s commitment to support athletes and expressed hope going into the future,” added Angwenyi.
Bett launched his season on a high, winning the South African grand Prix before an injury slowed him down. He had put greater emphasis on training and was looking forward to a return to the lucrative Diamond League circuit according to his coach who is a former Kenyan international Vincent Mumo.
“He still had more to give to the sport. His intention was to get back to peak performance and win more races.”