Kenyan marathon world record-holder Kelvin Kiptum killed in car crash

Published February 12, 2024
World marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana have died in a car crash in western Kenya that left a third passenger also injured, police said on February 11. — AFP
World marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana have died in a car crash in western Kenya that left a third passenger also injured, police said on February 11. — AFP

Tributes flowed on Monday for Kenyan running sensation Kelvin Kiptum after the marathon world record-holder was killed in a car crash at the age of 24 in his home country.

The favourite for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics was driving from Kaptagat to Eldoret in western Kenya around 11 pm on Sunday when his car rolled.

Kiptum and his Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana were killed while a woman passenger was injured, said Peter Mulinge, police commander for Elgeyo Marakwet County where the accident occurred.

“The car had three occupants, two died on the spot, while one was taken to hospital. The two are Kiptum and his coach,” he said.

“It is Kiptum who was driving heading to Eldoret and the vehicle lost control and rolled, killing the two on the spot,” he told reporters.

Kiptum exploded onto the marathon scene when he ran a world record 2:00:35 in Chicago in October, taking 34 seconds off fellow Kenyan star Eliud Kipchoge’s previous record.

He was just 23 years old at the time, and competing in only his third marathon.

Kiptum also won his other two efforts — his debut in Valencia in 2022 and a follow-up in London the following year.

“Arguably one of the world’s finest sportsmen who broke barriers to secure a marathon record,” Kenyan President William Ruto said on X, describing Kiptum as “our future” and “an extraordinary sportsman”.

‘Incredible athlete’

From herding goats just a decade ago, Kiptum had announced he would attempt in April to become the first man to run an official marathon under the mythic two-hour mark.

World Athletics said his debut was the fastest in history and mourned the loss of “one of the most exciting new prospects to emerge in road running in recent years”.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

“On behalf of all World Athletics, we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the Kenyan nation.”

Coe said only last week he had been in Chicago to officially ratify Kiptum’s historic time. “An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly,” he said.

Kiptum and compatriot Kipchoge were anticipated to run together for the first time this summer at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

“With the Olympics just days away, we mourn the untimely departure of a promising talent,” President of Kenya’s National Olympic Committee Paul Tergat said in a statement on X.

“Kelvin’s recent ratified record in Chicago showcased his potential for a bright future, representing the next generation of Olympic greatness.”

Kenyan two-time Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha described his death as a “huge loss”.

Humble beginnings

Kiptum hailed from Chepkorio, a village in the Rift Valley that is the heartland of Kenyan distance running, and where ultimately his death occurred.

Ten years ago, barely a teen, he herded goats and sheep and then began following Hakizimana, who is from Rwanda, and other runners as they trained in the legendary high-altitude region.

By 2019, Kiptum ran two half-marathons in two weeks, going 60:48 in Copenhagen and 59:53 in Belfort, France. He began training with Hakizimana, who stayed in Kenya when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Kiptum’s death is the latest in a saga of tragedies to hit Kenya’s young athletics hopefuls.

In 2011, Kenyan marathon great Samuel Wanjiru died at the same age after capturing the Olympic title in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics.

According to a pathologist, Wanjiru was killed from being hit on the head with a blunt object.

In 2021, long-distance running star Agnes Tirop was found stabbed to death at the age of 25 at her house in Iten, near Eldoret.

Her husband Ibrahim Rotich went on trial for her murder in November last year. He has denied the charge and was freed on bail just before the trial opened.

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