Beatrice Chebet: How granny helped launch her athletics career

World Cross Country champion Beatrice Chebet explains a point on NTV’s Monday night sports show SportOn! on August 7, 2023.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Back in 2016 when she was a Form Three student at Saramek Secondary School, Londiani, a neighbour visited her grandmother, who she had lived with for almost two years.

World Cross Country champion Beatrice Chebet did not dream of becoming a professional athlete.

But her grandmother Pauline Lang’at saw the special gift in her way before she could venture into the sport.

Back in 2016 when she was a Form Three student at Saramek Secondary School, Londiani, a neighbour visited her grandmother, who she had lived with for almost two years.

Beatrice Chebet crosses the finish line to win women's 1,500 metres race

Beatrice Chebet crosses the finish line to win women's 1,500 metres race during the National Police Service Athletics Championships at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on June 08, 2023.


 

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

The neighbour walked into her grandmother’s homestead and told her that she had noted Chebet had a talent and it was wise to let her join an athletics camp to refine it more instead of staying at home during school holidays.

After some days, her grandmother, who valued education dearly, summoned Chebet and asked her if she was interested in pursuing athletics.

She told her that there was a club in the neighbourhood that had produced two sisters for the 2015 World Athletics Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia and 2015 Africa Under-20 and Under-18 Athletics Championships in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Sandra Chebet had won bronze in 3,000 metres at the 2015 Africa Under-18 Championships before going for silver in 2,000m steeplechase at the world youth event.

On the other hand, Emily Chebet claimed silver in the 3,000m in Cali before finishing fifth in 1,500m at the African Youth Championships, Réduit, Mauritius the same year. Then Sandra would settle fifth in 3,000m at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2016 as Emily missed out in the 3,000m steeplechase.

“Sandra and Emily’s story was so good that my grandmother couldn’t resist the urge to let me pursue athletics,” said Chebet, the reigning Commonwealth Games 5,000m champion.

“I told my grandmother that I was more than ready to take up athletics fully as long as she supported me in camp,” said Chebet, who is also the 2022 world 5,000m silver medallist.

From left: Tokyo Marathon champion Rosemary Wanjiru (March), World Cross Country gold medallist Beatrice Chebet (February), London Marathon winner (April) and Kenya Pipeline outside hitter (January) pose for photos with their respective SJAK/LG Sports Personalty of the Month trophies during the awards ceremony at Riadha House on May 24, 2023.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Her grandmother then approached coach Paul Kemei, who was more than ready to take her into his Lemotit Athletics Club where she got to meet Emily and Sandra. Chebet recalls joining the Lemotit Club on November 7, 2016.

When Chebet’s parents moved back to their ancestral home in Londiani from Kericho, where her father worked in a tea estate, she stayed in her grandmother’s house.

Her parents Francis and Lilian Kirui were supportive.

Though still a dark horse, Chebet, the 2022 Diamond League 5,000m Trophy winner, is on the path to greatness as she prepares for the World Athletics Championships slated for August 19 to 27 in Budapest, Hungary.

“It was easy for me since I had competed in 5,000m in primary school,” said Chebet, who graduated from Saramek Primary School, Londiani in 2013 before joining the school’s secondary wing in 2014.

“At times I am lost for words when I look at where I have reached when I look or talk to my grandmother,” said Chebet.

“She always reminds me of the first time I joined Lemotit...to work hard and always embrace discipline,” said Chebet, who took less than a year after joining Lemotit to represent the country.

Chebet also talks fondly of her parents Francis and Lillian, who have also played an integral part in her success. “They are everything to me since I always fall back to them in my high or low moments.”

Chebet won the national trials in 3,000m to represent the country at the 2017 World Athletics Youth Championships where she settled fourth in the final.

“I can’t tell how I qualified because I really had to plan...It never sunk that I was representing Kenya for the first time,” explained Chebet, who went on to win the national trials in 5,000m to qualify for the 2018 World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.

“Ooh my God! I was so excited and I didn’t sleep on the flight...c’mon! How could I have slept on my maiden flight? ” posed Chebet, during the NTV’s Monday night sports show SportOn! hosted by Bernard Ndong and James Wokabi.

From left: NTV’s Monday night sports show SportOn! co-host James Wokabi, World Cross Country champion Beatrice Chebet, SportOn! co-host Bernard Ndong and NMG Sports Reporter Ayumba Ayodi pose for photos on August 7, 2023 at Nation Centre.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

While winning the World Under-20 5,000m title officially launched Chebet’s road to athletics stardom, it’s the advice from two-time world 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri that shaped her in the 5,000m race.

Finishing last in 3,000m at the 2018 Birmingham Müller Grand Prix on August 18 on her maiden appearance at the Diamond League, was a big reality check for Chebet.

“Obiri called to advise me not to lose hope but make 5,000m my main race...that losing wasn’t an issue but how I will pick up and dust myself off to continue,” said Chebet.

“She always tells me to be slow but sure, only strike when it matters and always stick to my lane. She always tells me winning and losing is part of the game and not a matter of life and death,” said the 23-year-old Chebet, adding that she is inspired to emulate her role model Obiri by winning two world titles this year.

Obiri, the 2016 Rio Olympics 5,000m silver medallist, claimed the World Cross Country Championships title in Aarhus, Denmark before retaining her world 5,000m crown in Doha all in 2019.   

Chebet, who won the world under-20 crown in Aarhus, claimed the world cross country senior crown in February, this year in Bathurst, Australia, stunning favourite Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia.

“That was a miracle. Mungu akisema ni yako, ni yako (If God says it’s your time then nothing can stop it),” said Chebet, who rallied from close to 500m to beat Gidey who tumbled to fall with 200m to go.

“Gidey was in my sight at the tyre challenge and I saw her looking back all the time...she looked tired and that is when I knew I should not relent,” said Chebet, who had no clue about what had happened to Gidey.

“I had to win first before going back to see what had happened. I felt really sorry for her since no one celebrates the misfortunes of others.”

Chebet said that claiming silver in 5,000m at the World Championships in Oregon, United States last year inspired her to victory at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Great Britain.

"Winning silver in Oregon was more than I had bargained for since my only target was to reach the final. That made me plan well for the Commonwealth Games since I saw an opportunity for my first senior victory especially with the Ethiopians missing," said Chebet.

Going on to win the Diamond League Trophy after exploits in Oregon and Birmingham was quite vital as Chebet commended 2019 world 5,000m silver medallist Margaret Chelimo for great teamwork that delivered the victory.

“It gave  me a wild card to Budapest and  a total of four slots for Kenya, which is advantageous,” said Chebet, who will now team up with the 5,000m and 1,500m world record holder Faith Kipyegon, Chelimo and African Games 5,000m champion Lilian Kasait.

World Cross Country champion Beatrice Chebet explains a point on NTV’s Monday night sports show SportOn! on August 7, 2023.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

Chebet is not bothered about Kipyegon's presence and the rest of her opponents in Budapest.

"We have a strong team but I believe in myself and that anything is bound to happen in Budapest. I will be glad if I am to replicate what Obri did in 2019," said Chebet.

She believes that perseverance will be key to victory in Budapest, having  learnt lessons after she lost to Ethiopia's world 5,000m champion Gudaf Tsegay in London Diamond League on July 23 this year.

"I would have won if I persevered a little bit," said Chebet.