NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kelvin Kiptum, the marathon world record holder who was expected to become a long-distance running superstar, was killed along with his coach in a car crash in Kenya on Sunday night.
Kiptum was 24 and the world record he set last year at the Chicago Marathon was ratified by the international athletics federation World Athletics last week.
He was one of the brightest prospects in road running in years and was an obvious contender for marathon gold at the Paris Olympics in August.
Kiptum, who was Kenyan, and his Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana were killed in the accident around 11 p.m. Another Kenyan athlete, Milcah Chemos, confirmed their deaths to the Associated Press. She was at the hospital morgue where the bodies were taken and saw Kiptum’s body, she said.
She struggled to speak while bursting into tears.
“I have no words to explain the loss of Kelvin,” she said.
The accident occurred on a road between the towns of Eldoret and Kaptagat in western Kenya, Chemos said, in the heart of this high-altitude region known as a training base for the best distance runners from Kenya and around the world. Kiptum was born and raised in the area.
Chemos said she went to the hospital with other athletes and members of Kiptum’s family after hearing the news. Family members, including Kiptum’s father, were there to identify his body.
Kaptagat regional police chief Denis Muga said Kiptum was driving and was the only car involved in the accident.
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. It appears the car left the road at high speed and collided with a tree before rolling, Kimaiyo said.
A third person, a woman, was also in the car and was taken to hospital with serious injuries, he said.
Photos from the scene showed the silver car with a badly mangled roof and one of the doors open.
The Kenyan Athletics Federation said it was saddened to announce the deaths of Kiptum and Hakizimana.
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. He set the record in only his third high-level marathon.
Kiptum and Kipchoge were expected to provide a tantalizing all-Kenyan battle for Paris marathon gold. Kiptum was due to start 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 at the beginning of the 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. While he was young and new to the circuit, he had already run three of the seven fastest marathon times ever recorded.
He is the last of many great Kenyan runners to die in tragic road accidents.
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.
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.
Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.
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