NAIROBI, Kenya — Marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum, a would-be long-distance running superstar and a leading contender for gold at the Paris Olympics this year, was killed along with his coach in a car accident. in Kenya.
Their vehicle was the only one involved in the crash late Sunday and Kiptum was driving when it went off the road and into a ditch before hitting a tree, police said.
Kenya’s Kiptum was 24 and one of the most exciting prospects to emerge in road running in years, breaking the world record in just his third appearance in an elite marathon. His record, set at last year’s Chicago marathon, was ratified by the international athletics federation just last week.
His death reverberated across Kenya, where runners are the sport’s biggest stars. Kenyans are also used to tragic stories involving their top athletes, as a number of them have died in road accidents, other accidents and cases of domestic violence.
“He was only 24 years old,” Kenyan President William Ruto said in a statement offering his condolences. “Kiptum was our future.”
Kiptum and his Rwandan coach, Gervais Hakizimana, were killed in the crash at around 11pm, police said. The event took place near the town of Kaptagat in western Kenya, in the heart of the high-altitude region that is known as a training base for the best distance runners from Kenya and around the world.
Kiptum was born and raised in that area.
A third person, a 24-year-old woman, was also in the car and was taken to hospital with serious injuries, police said. Kiptum and Hakizimana died at the scene.
Athletes and family members, including Kiptum’s father, gathered at the hospital morgue where the bodies of Kiptum and his coach were taken. One of the athletes, former women’s steeplechase world champion Milcah Chemos, struggled to speak as she broke down in tears.
“I have no words to explain the loss of Kelvin,” she said.
Kenneth Kimaiyo, a friend of Kiptum, said he arrived at the scene of the accident shortly after it happened and Kiptum had been thrown from the car. Photos showed the silver car with a badly damaged roof and a flattened windshield.
Kiptum became the first man to run the marathon in under 2 hours 1 minute in an official race when he set the world record of 2:00.35 minutes in Chicago in October, beating the mark of fellow Kenyan and marathon great Eliud Kipchoge, who who is the reigning two-time Olympic champion.
Kiptum and Kipchoge were expected to provide an enticing all-Kenyan battle for marathon gold in Paris and Kiptum was due to start his season at the Rotterdam Marathon in April, which would be his first event since breaking the world record.
“An athlete who had a lifetime ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness,” Kipchoge said in a tribute message.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe was one of the first to express his condolences in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana,” Coe wrote.
“It was only earlier this week in Chicago, the place where Kelvin set his incredible marathon world record, that I was able to officially ratify his historic time. An incredible athlete who has left an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly.”
David Rudisha, Kenya’s two-time Olympic 800m champion, wrote in X that Kiptum’s death was “a great loss”.
Kiptum found immediate success by running the fastest time ever by a marathon debutant at the 2022 Valencia Marathon. The following year, he won the London and Chicago races, two of the world’s most prestigious marathons. He set a new course record at the London Marathon last April and then became the world’s fastest marathoner months later.
While young and new to the circuit, he had already run three of the seven fastest marathon times ever recorded and was seen as a rare talent.
But he was also the latest Kenyan star to die under devastating circumstances.
David Lelei, an African Games silver medalist, died in a car accident in 2010. Marathon runner Francis Kiplagat was among five people killed in an accident in 2018. Nicholas Bett, who won the gold in the 400m hurdles at the 2015 world championships, also died in a car accident in 2018.
Rudisha, former world 10,000m champion Moses Tanui and Olympic silver medalist Paul Tergat have all survived serious road accidents in the East African country.
Samuel Wanjiru, the 2008 Olympic marathon champion who was also thought to be an all-time great, died in 2011 aged 24 after falling from a balcony at his home in Kenya.
Kenyans were perhaps most shocked when Agnes Tirop, a multiple world champion in the country, was stabbed to death in her home in 2021, allegedly by her husband. He was accused of murder.
Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.
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