Kenya‘s marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach were killed in a traffic accident in the Rift Valley on Sunday, cutting short the promising career of the only man to have run the endurance classic in less than two hours and one minute.
The 24-year-old set the world record at the Chicago Marathon in October with a time of two hours and 35 seconds to surpass the mark of 2:01:09 run by compatriot Eliud Kipchoge in Berlin in 2022.
Kiptum, who clocked three of the seven fastest marathon times in history, had been hoping to become the first man to run the marathon in under two hours in race conditions at Rotterdam in April as well as make his Olympic debut in Paris in July.
“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, team mates and the Kenyan nation.
“An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly.”
According to the police report, Kiptum was driving his Rwandan coach and a woman in a car near the Rift Valley village where he was born when the accident occurred.
The athlete lost control of the vehicle and veered off the road into a ditch, travelling for about 60 metres along it before crashing into a large tree.
Kiptum and Gervais Hakizimana died at the scene but the woman, 24-year-old Sharon Chepkurui Kosgei Keiyo, survived with serious injuries and was treated at a local hospital.
Despite the late hour, tributes were paid to Kiptum by senior Kenyan politicians and government officials.
“Devastating news as we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual, Kelvin Kiptum, World Record holder and Kenyan athletics icon,” former Kenya prime minister Raila Odinga said on social media platform X.
“My deepest condolences to his loved ones, friends, and the entire athletics fraternity. Our nation grieves the profound loss of a true hero.”
Kiptum, a product of the high altitude region of Kenya which has produced most of the country’s world renowned distance runners, started his international career on the half-marathon circuit in 2019.
He made an explosive entry into the full 42.195km distance by running the then fourth fastest time on record (2.01.53) to win the 2022 Valencia Marathon on debut.
That race revealed his trademark approach to marathons, running with the pack for the first 30kms and then upping the pace and racing off alone for the remainder of the race.
He used the same tactics to win last April’s London Marathon in a course record of 2:01:25 and again in Chicago in October to take 34 seconds off Kipchoge’s world mark.
That was to be his final race before his untimely death, which came only a week after World Athletics had ratified his world record.
Hakizimana, 36, was a former distance runner who still holds Rwanda’s record for the 3,000 metres steeplechase. He met first Kiptum when he was training in the Rift Valley and worked with him intensively before last year’s London marathon.
“I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn the passing of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana,” Kenya‘s twice Olympic champion and 800m world record holder David Rudisha said in a post on X.
“This is a huge loss.”