Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum, the men’s marathon world record holder, and his coach, Rwanda’s Gervais Hakizimana, died in a road accident on Sunday night in western Kenya. They were travelling in a car that lost control and veered off the road, hitting a big tree. A third person, a young woman, was seriously injured and taken to hospital for treatment.
Kiptum, 24, was a rising star in the world of athletics, having broken the world record in Chicago last October, clocking the 26.2 miles (42km) in two hours and 35 seconds. He had bettered the record of his compatriot and rival, Eliud Kipchoge, one of the greatest marathon runners of all time. The two athletes had been named in Kenya’s provisional marathon team for the Paris Olympics later this year.
Kiptum’s father, Samson Cheruiyot, was devastated by the news of his son’s death. “Kiptum was my only child, now he’s left me,” he told Kenya’s Citizen TV. “I don’t know what to say, I see his children will be looking to me and my child is gone… Now, who will help us raise his kids?”
Tributes pour in for the marathon sensation
The death of Kiptum and Hakizimana sent shockwaves across the sporting world, with many paying tribute to their achievements and potential. Kipchoge, who had been Kiptum’s mentor and inspiration, said on Twitter that he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of his “friend and brother”. He described Kiptum as a “rising star” who had “a whole life” ahead of him to achieve “incredible greatness”.
Kenya’s President William Ruto also expressed his condolences, calling Kiptum an “extraordinary sportsman” who had “left a mark on the world”. He said Kiptum had “inspired millions of people with his talent, passion and resilience”. He also praised Hakizimana for his “dedication and professionalism” as a coach.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) said it was “heartbroken” by the news, and hailed Kiptum as “one of the most exciting talents in marathon running”. It said Kiptum had “demonstrated his immense potential” in his short but remarkable career, and had “set the stage for a thrilling rivalry” with Kipchoge.
Kiptum’s journey from poverty to glory
Kiptum’s story was one of overcoming poverty and hardship to achieve his dreams. He was born in a remote village in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where he grew up in a mud hut with no electricity or running water. He started running at a young age, often barefoot, to get to school and help his parents with farm work.
He entered his first major competition in 2018, running in borrowed shoes because he could not afford a pair of his own. He surprised everyone by winning the Valencia Marathon in Spain, clocking the then fourth fastest time on record (2:01:53). He followed that up with another victory at the London Marathon in April 2023, setting a course record of 2:01:25.
But his crowning moment came in Chicago in October 2023, when he shattered the world record by 34 seconds, in just his third marathon. He had developed a distinctive tactical approach that saw him run with the pack for 30km before upping the pace and going out on his own for the remainder of the race.
He was widely regarded as the future of marathon running, and had set his sights on becoming the first person to run the marathon in under two hours in open competition. He was due to attempt this feat in Rotterdam in April, but fate had other plans.
A legacy of hope and inspiration
Kiptum’s death has robbed the world of a talented and humble athlete, who had overcome many challenges to reach the pinnacle of his sport. He had also given hope and inspiration to many young people in Kenya and beyond, who saw him as a role model and a hero.
He leaves behind a wife and two children, aged four and two, who will miss him dearly. He also leaves behind a legacy of excellence and courage, that will live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him and admired him.
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