The holder of the men’s marathon world record, Kelvin Kiptum from Kenya, aged 24, has tragically died in a road traffic accident in his native country.
He was fatally injured along with his coach, Gervais Hakizimana of Rwanda, while travelling in a vehicle on a road in western Kenya on Sunday.
In 2023, Kiptum emerged as a competitor to his fellow Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, who is considered one of the marathon running greats.
His most notable achievement came last October in Chicago, where Kiptum surpassed Kipchoge’s record by completing the 26.2 miles (42km) marathon in two hours and 35 seconds.
Both athletes had been selected for Kenya’s preliminary marathon team for the forthcoming Paris Olympics later this year.
In tribute to Kiptum, Kenya’s Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba expressed his sorrow on X, stating: “Devastatingly sickening!! Kenya has lost a special gem. Lost for words.”
Kenya’s opposition leader and former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, described the loss as that of “a true hero” and mourned “a remarkable individual… and a Kenyan athletics icon.”
Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics, remarked that Kiptum was “an incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy.”
The fatal accident occurred around 23:00 local time (20:00 GMT) on Sunday, as reported by the AFP news agency, citing police sources.
Providing further details on the incident, the police reported that Kiptum, who was driving, lost control of the vehicle, which then overturned, resulting in the immediate death of both men.
An AFP spokesperson further mentioned that a female passenger was injured in the crash and “rushed to hospital.”
Just a week prior to the accident, it was announced that Kiptum intended to attempt to complete a marathon in under two hours at the Rotterdam marathon, a milestone yet to be achieved in open competition.
Kiptum’s ascent to fame was swift; his first full marathon was only in 2022. He quickly made a significant impact, running the fourth fastest time ever recorded (2:01:53) to win the Valencia Marathon, followed by setting a course record of 2:01:25 at the London Marathon in April 2023.
In what would be his final race, just six months later, he shaved 34 seconds off the world record time in Chicago.
Kiptum developed a distinctive strategy, running with the group for the first 30kms before increasing his pace to finish the race solo.
He took part in his first major competition in 2018, wearing borrowed shoes as he could not afford his own, signalling his entry into a new generation of Kenyan athletes who began their careers on the road, moving away from the traditional progression from track to longer distances.
Kiptum shared with the BBC last year that his unconventional start was due to financial constraints. “I had no money for travel to track sessions,” he said.
His coach, Hakizimana, aged 36, was a retired athlete from Rwanda. Over the last year, he devoted his time to helping Kiptum achieve the world record.
Their coach-athlete relationship started in 2018, although they first met when Kiptum was much younger. “I knew him when he was a little boy, herding livestock barefoot,” Hakizimana reminisced 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.”