Nairobi — National 3000m steeplechase champion Leonard Bett has revealed that his underwhelming performance last year was due to lack of self-confidence.
The 22-year-old said that many times he did not believe that he was capable of winning against more established athletes and that this lack of self-belief translated into sub-par performances on the track.
"The one lesson I learned last year was that you need to believe in yourself as an athlete first and foremost if you want to succeed. Last year, I was in quite good shape and could have even won a medal. However, there were moments I would look at other athletes and say to myself that I could not compete against them. So, I've learnt to always trust in yourself and your training and work hard," Bett said.
His track and field season in 2022 began on a flying note, clocking 8:28.99 to win the national title at the Moi Stadium, Kasarani in April.
Bett also timed 8:12.08 to finish third at the Lausanne Diamond League meeting in August.
However, the World Championships in Oregon in July were a harrowing experience for the youngster as he clocked 8:36.74 to finish 15th in the men's 3000m steeplechase final.
His performance was one of many, which evidenced Kenya's dwindling fortunes in a race it has dominated for eons as Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali added to his Olympic title won in Tokyo with another powerful kick in the last lap to dethrone then world champion, Kenya's Conseslus Kipruto.
Looking back to those events of July 18 at Hayward Field, Bett concedes that Kenyans should wake up and smell the coffee - the threat to the country's domination as a steeplechase giant is getting formidable with each day.
"We have always been the country to beat when it comes to steeplechase and so all the others have been preparing and working hard for us and indeed, they have caught up to us. El Bakkali is a strong athlete who has been in the game for long. He has persevered and finally managed to achieve his dream and I can't say he doesn't deserve it," Bett said.
He added: "I think the problem started when the likes of the steeplechase greats such as Kemboi (Ezekiel) and 'Conse' (Conseslus Kipruto) stepped out of the game. There was a gap that was left in steeplechase for some time and so it is during this period that other countries caught up to us. It is now that the we, the current generation of steeplechase specialists, are trying to change the situation."
'There is hope'
Present realities notwithstanding, Bett is optimistic that Kenya will soon reclaim its dominance in steeplechase, considering the two are tied to the hip.
Nonetheless, diligence and hard work will be required if this aspiration is to become reality.
Bett's best bet is teamwork among the different athletes.
"I think the coaches should bring us together as a team ahead of a major championships like the World Championships so we can train and work on team tactics. It should be a team with a mix of experience and youth, including the likes of Abraham (Kibiwott), Kigen (Benjamin) and even Conse, among others," the Bomet county native said.
At her personal level, Bett's to-do list as far as the track and field season is concerned includes improving on his hurdling technique.
"It is the one area I need to work...steeplechase is a very technical race and if you are not technically good when it comes to hurdling then you will struggle. So, as I have just began my track season, this is one area I am really concentrating on," he said.
He was in action at last weekend's Athletics Kenya Track and Field Weekend Meeting at Nyayo Stadium where he timed 8:31.55 to finish third in the men's 3000m steeplechase.
Bett described the race as 'just what the doctor ordered' as he gets up to speed with his physical readiness.
"I came here today to test my physical levels and now I know where to work on in training because this was my first race on track this year. I have been competing in the cross country series and it was part of a bigger plan to prepare physically for the upcoming competitions including the World Championships," he said.
As the track and field season nationally and internationally engages second gear, one of the storylines expected to dominate 2023 is Kenya's continuing efforts to reclaim its throne as the kings of steeplechase.
Expect Bett to play a pivotal role in these efforts.