Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum, aged 24, who held the world record in men’s marathon, has tragically passed away in a road accident in his native country.
Tragically, he lost his life along with his coach, Gervais Hakizimana from Rwanda, in a car accident on a road in western Kenya last Sunday.
In 2023, Kiptum emerged as a formidable competitor to his fellow Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, widely regarded as one of the greatest marathon runners.
Last October in Chicago, Kiptum surpassed Kipchoge’s accomplishment by completing the 26.2 miles (42km) in two hours and 35 seconds.
Both athletes had been selected for Kenya’s provisional marathon team for the upcoming Paris Olympics later this year.
Paying tribute to Kiptum, Kenyan Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba wrote on X: “Devastatingly sickening!! Kenya has lost a special gem. Lost for words.”
Kenya’s opposition leader and former prime minister, Raila Odinga, said the country had lost “a true hero” and was mourning “a remarkable individual… and Kenyan athletics icon”.
Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, said Kiptum was “an incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy”.
According to reports, the road accident occurred around 23:00 local time (20:00 GMT) on Sunday, as reported by the police.
Further elaborating on the crash, authorities stated that Kiptum was driving the vehicle when it “lost control and overturned, resulting in the immediate fatalities of both occupants.”
A spokesperson cited by AFP mentioned that the third passenger, a female, sustained injuries and was “urgently transported to the hospital.”
Just a week prior to the accident, Kiptum’s team had revealed his ambition to attempt breaking the two-hour mark in the Rotterdam marathon, a feat yet to be accomplished in open competition.
His ascent to prominence was swift – he embarked on his first full marathon in 2022. Demonstrating remarkable talent, he swiftly rose to prominence, clinching the then fourth fastest time on record (2:01:53) to secure victory in the Valencia Marathon. Subsequently, he set a course record of 2:01:25 at the London Marathon in April 2023.
In his third marathon, just six months later, Kiptum made a remarkable stride by slashing 34 seconds off the world record time in Chicago, marking his final race.
Employing a distinctive tactical strategy, Kiptum had already perfected his approach, which involved staying with the leading group for 30 kilometers before accelerating the pace and forging ahead solo for the remainder of the race.
Kiptum’s debut on the major competitive stage occurred in 2018, where he participated while wearing borrowed shoes due to financial constraints that prevented him from purchasing his own pair.
He belonged to a new generation of Kenyan athletes who embarked on their careers directly on the road, departing from the conventional trajectory of beginning on the track before transitioning to longer distances.
Explaining his unconventional path, Kiptum shared with the BBC last year that his decision was purely influenced by a lack of resources.
“I had no money to travel to track sessions,” he explained.
Hakizimana, aged 36, was a former Rwandan athlete who had retired from running. Last year, he devoted several months to assisting Kiptum in his pursuit of the world record.
Their coach-athlete bond was established in 2018, yet their initial encounter dates back to when the world record holder was considerably younger.
“I knew him when he was a little boy, herding livestock barefooted,” Hakizimana recalled last year. “It was in 2009, I was training near his father’s farm, he’d come kicking at my heels and I would chase him away.
“Now, I am grateful to him for his achievement.”