Nicholas Bett, a Kenyan runner who won the 2015 world championship title in the 400-meter hurdles, was killed in an early-morning car crash Wednesday in the country's famed high-altitude training region, police and his coach said. He was 28.
Bett had only just returned home this week from the African championships in Nigeria.
Nandi county police commander Patrick Wambani said Bett died in a one-car crash on the road between Eldoret and Kapsabet, two of Kenya's best-known distance-running training towns in the Rift Valley region.
Bett was driving alone, Wambani said.
Bett's SUV hit bumps in the road and rolled, landing on its roof in a ditch, his coach, Vincent Mumo, told the Associated Press. Mumo said the accident happened at about 6 a.m.
“I'm out of words,” Mumo said. “We thank God for his life.”
Mumo said Bett's twin brother, Aron Koech, who is also an athlete, was “beyond grief.”
Bett was also the father of 2-year-old twin boys.
His gold in the 400 hurdles at the 2015 world championships in Beijing was a breakthrough victory for Kenya, normally a powerhouse only in middle- and long-distance events.
The triumph made Bett the first Kenyan to win a major title in the event. It signaled that Kenya was ready to challenge at the shorter distances, too.
Julius Yego, who also produced a surprise at the same world championships to win the gold in javelin, wrote on Facebook: “Dark morning, horrifying news! Can't believe it's real but go rest with the angels Nicholas Bett!”
“I'm shocked beyond words!” Yego added. “My roommate in Beijing when we won gold together and it was just the other day we were in Nigeria.”
Bett was initially a volleyball player before turning to track. He also won bronze medals at the African championships in 2014 in the 400 hurdles and 1,600-meter relay.
“Bett earned the country great honors in his outstanding victories,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta wrote on his official Twitter page. “My deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to his family, relatives and friends.”
The IAAF, track’s world governing body, said it was “deeply saddened and shocked” by Bett's death. Athletics Kenya said it sent condolences to Bett's family and would help organize the funeral.
“We are really mourning the loss,” Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei said. “He has done a lot for this country. He is still a young boy and we will really miss him.”
Bett's twin brother was part of the Kenyan 1,600-meter relay team that won gold at last week's African championships in Asaba, Nigeria.