NAIROBI, Aug. 8 (GNA/Xinhua) - August
is feared by Kenyans as a dark month starting from 1978 when the nation's first
president Jomo Kenyatta passed away on Aug. 22.
Since then, scores of famous Kenyans have lost their lives in the month. The single-most biggest atrocity in the country's history took place 20 years ago when over 250 perished in the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi on Aug. 7, 1998.
On Wednesday morning, Kenya was once again reeling in shock following the loss of Beijing 2015 World Championships men's 400m hurdles gold winner, Nicholas Kiplagat Bett, who died in a road accident at Lessos, along the Eldoret-Kapsabet road in the distance running heartland of Nandi County.
Nandi County Police Commander Patrick Wambani confirmed Bett, who was driving alone, perished on the spot. He lost control of his SUV vehicle after hitting speed bumps. The SUV rolled and ended in a ditch at around 6:30am local time.
It sparked an outpouring of grief from the local and international athletics fraternity, with President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto leading Kenyans in paying homage to the fallen sprinter.
The 28-year-old made history in China when he became the first Kenyan to win a sprint gold medal at the biannual IAAF track and field showpiece when he ran a national record of 47.79 for victory running from Lane 9, the least desired starting position of the high-hurdles lap-race.
His glory brought him fame and fortune, transforming the lanky but soft-spoken likable runner from a budding sprinter into a global superstar. His stunning victory was one of biggest talking points of the successful Beijing 2015 worlds.
"I was more shocked to run a time I never thought I would make in my life and from there, my life changed. I have been able to do things for my family like building a house, buying a tractor and investing," the fallen athlete recounted.
At the home he shared with his immediate and extended family, including twin and fellow sprinter, Aron Koech, a gold winner (men 4X400m relay) at the recent Asaba 2018 CAA Africa Athletics Championships in Nigeria. Bett set in motion a number of farming projects aimed at securing their income.
Sadly, his short career at the top which was ignited by winning two bronze medals at the Rabat 2014 Africa Championships, was blighted by injury and personal pain which would have broken the spirit of even the strongest person.
It all started at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland when he made his first appearance for Kenya, finishing fifth in the heats of the 400m hurdles to end his progression.
"When we got there, I had a tendon injury, ran 51.21 in the heats and I did not make the semis. Afterwards, we were diverted and told we would go straight to Morocco for the African Championships," Bett stated.
The decision by Athletics Kenya (AK) denied him a chance to seek treatment but nevertheless, running through the pain barrier, he was able to win 400m hurdles bronze in his then personal best of 49.03 before adding a second medal as part of the 4x400m relay quartet that finished third.
"That gave me the morale to train in hurdles because if I could run 49.03 with injury, I believe I could make it to run under 49 if I trained harder," he held.
His performance in Rabat saw his talent come to the notice of former national 400m champion and coach, Vincent Mumo, who introduced him to his Finnish manager, Juuka Harkonen, opening the doors to his career take-off.
Harkonen organised training for him in December 2014 in South Africa and early 2015, he was flown to Finland for further training that transformed his crude running style.
"I didn't know how many strides to take between hurdles and such things and the training helped me a lot. I used to go down on the blocks on my left leg but the coaches switched me to my right because it had more power and helped me get a better start," Bett said.
With that, he was ready to return home and fight for a place in the Kenyan team for Beijing.
"We trained for two weeks in Finland with Boniface Mucheru (Olympic silver medallist) and then we came back for the Trials where I won in 48.29.
"I saw I was position three in the world rankings at the time and that is when I realised there was hope for the World Championships," Bett, who had the erudite memory of every single performance on the track underlined.
His preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympics were progressing well, even winning the Paris leg of the IAAF Diamond League in May, but his training was rudely cut short when one of his twin sons fell gravely ill soon after childbirth.
Despite missing the Trials, Bett was handed a wildcard by AK but the trauma of his son's illness meant his focus was not switched on, with his Olympics hopes ending in disqualification during the 400m hurdles heats in Rio.
Bett failed to clear the final hurdle after clipping it before gingerly jogging to the finish line in a race that had to be retaken after a false start.
Eyeing a title defence at London 2017, Bett withdrew from the Team Kenya squad after injuring his Achilles heel meaning he could not hurdle and on his return to competition at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, he could only finish eighth.
His last outing for Kenya was at Asaba where the effects of the Talus bone injury meant he could not power to the medals and after the team was hosted to a reception by the AK and government on Monday night for topping the medal charts with 11 gold, six silver and two bronze, Bett returned home on Tuesday.
"He was determined to return to his best with the World Championships in Doha next year his principle focus. He's had a rough time and he was optimistic everything was now behind him," his coach Mumo who last spoke to him in Nairobi said.
His father introduced Bett to the sport, an athletics coach Boit who would place hurdles made of sticks for him and the brother to compete when herding cows as youngsters.
A gifted sportsman, Bett was the captain of the Cheptil High volleyball team where he played in the right or main strong positions, leading them to the regional finals of the secondary school competition.
He joined the Blue Triangle cement volleyball team to pursue a career in the sport. But then he realized he was going nowhere with the team sport, before deciding to try high jump and decathlon.
"In 2010, I went to the Kenya Junior Trials and won the high jump but they did not include any field athletes in the team," Bett recalled.
He further tried to crack the Kenyan team in the 110m and 400m hurdles races but again, he was not picked. But after finishing third in the latter in 52.8, he set his own target.
In 2011, Bett ran 50.39 to finish third at the National Championships, a performance that caught the eye of the Kenya Police Service. Then Bett missed the entire 2012 season as he undertook his constabulary studies at the Kenya Police Training College in Kiganjo.
With a police career to fall back on, Bett resumed training in 2013 and two years later, made history in China.