Nairobi, Kenya — Kelvin Kiptum, marathon world record holder, who was to beand one of the main contenders for gold at this year’s Paris Olympics, was killed along with his coach in a car accident in Kenya.
Their vehicle was the only one involved in the crash Sunday evening, and Kiptum was driving when he left the road and ended up in a ditch before hitting a tree, police said.
Kiptum was 24 and one of the most exciting prospects to emerge in road running in years, having broken the world record in only his third participation in an elite marathon. His record, established last year at the Chicago Marathon, was ratified last week by the international athletics federation World Athletics.
His death had repercussions in Kenya, where runners are the sport’s biggest stars. Kenyans have also become accustomed to tragic stories involving their top athletes after several of them died in road crashes, 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 accident around 11 p.m., police said. It happened near the town of Kapsabet in western Kenya, in the heart of a high-altitude region renowned as a training base for the best long-distance runners in Kenya and around the world.
Kiptum was born and raised in the area.
A third person, a 24-year-old woman, was also in the car and was seriously injured. She was taken to a hospital, police said. Kiptum and Hakizimana died instantly.
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 while breaking 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 crash scene shortly after the accident occurred and Kiptum was thrown from the car. Photos showed the silver car with a badly mangled roof and one of the doors open.
Kiptum was the first man to run the marathon in under 2 hours and 1 minute in an official race when he set the world record of 2:00.35 in Chicago in October, beating his fellow Kenyan’s mark and great marathon runner Eliud Kipchoge.
Kiptum and Kipchoge were set to provide a tantalizing battle between the Kenyans for gold at the Paris marathon and Kiptum was set to begin his season at the Rotterdam marathon in April, which would have been his first event since breaking the world record.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe was one of the first to offer 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. “On behalf of World Athletics, we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the nation of Kenya.”
“It was only earlier this week in Chicago, where Kelvin set his extraordinary marathon world record, that I was able to officially ratify his historic time. An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, he will be greatly missed “Coe wrote.
David Rudisha, Kenya’s two-time Olympic 800-meter champion, wrote on X that Kiptum’s death was “a huge loss.”
Kiptum enjoyed immediate success, setting the fastest time ever by a beginner at the 2022 Valencia Marathon. The following year, he won the London and Chicago races, two of the most prestigious marathons in the world. He set a new course record at the London Marathon last April, then became the world’s fastest marathoner a few months later.
Although young and new to the circuit, he had already run three of the seven fastest marathon times ever recorded and was considered a rare talent.
But he is also the latest Kenyan star to die in devastating circumstances.
David Lelei, a silver medalist at the All-African Games, died in a car crash in 2010. Marathon runner Francis Kiplagat was among five people killed in a crash in 2018. Nicholas Bett, who won gold in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2015 World Championships, also died in a car accident in 2018.
Rudisha, former 10,000 meters world 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 considered an all-time great, died in 2011 at the age of 24 after falling from a balcony at his home in Kenya.
Kenyans were perhaps more shocked when Agnes Tirop, a multiple world cross-country champion, was stabbed to death at her home in 2021, apparently by her husband. He was charged with murder.
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