THE WORLD OF ATHLETICS is reeling with news that marathon world record holder, Kelvin Kiptum, died in a road accident on Sunday.
The 24-year-old, who won the London Marathon last April before setting the world record in Chicago in October, reportedly lost control of his vehicle while driving in Kaptagat, south-west Kenya, at 11pm local time.
His coach, Gervais Hakizimana, also died in the crash, while a third person was rushed to hospital.
Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, paid his respects, writing on X, formerly Twitter: “Devastating news as we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual, Kelvin Kiptum, world record holder and Kenyan athletics icon. Together with his coach, they tragically passed on in an accident tonight. Our nation grieves the profound loss of a true hero.”
Local county commander Peter Mulinge told the Nation newspaper that Kiptum had lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree before landing in a ditch.
“This was a self-involved accident where one Kelvin Kiptum, the world marathon record holder, was driving his vehicle with two passengers,” Mulinge added. “Kiptum and Hakizimana died on the spot and the third person was rushed to Racecourse hospital in Eldoret.”
Kiptum was the first man to run the marathon in under two hours, one minute. at the Chicago Marathon in October, beating the previous mark of fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge.
Kiptum didn’t just break the world record, he smashed it by 34 seconds, in some part due to the rapid advancements in shoe technology in recent years. In doing, so Kiptum recorded an average mile pace of 4:36 and an average 5km pace of 14:17.3.
The astonishing part of Kiptum’s feat is that until 10 months before, he had never before run a marathon. Chicago was just Kiptum’s third marathon ever. He won the London Marathon earlier last year in 2:01:25—just 16 seconds behind Kipchoge’s world record at the time (2:01:09). This followed his debut at the Valencia Marathon in 2022, in which Kiptum announced himself to the world, winning in what was the fastest debut in marathon history, a time of 2:01:53.
Kiptum and Kipchoge were set to battle for supremacy in endurance running’s premier event at the Paris Olympics this year.
Three of the six fastest marathons ever recorded belong to Kiptum. The nine fastest times are shared by three men: Kiptum, Kipchoge and Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele.
Kiptum’s coach, Rwanda’s Gervais Hakizimana, who also died in the car accident, had previously revealed his student’s intense training program in an interview with Agence France-Presse. In preparation for last year’s London Marathon, he had regularly run between 250 and 280 kilometres and had even completed three weeks in excess of 300 kilometres. For perspective, the majority of the world’s top marathon runners complete between 180 and 230 kilometres a week, including two or three “hard” runs.
The Kenyan’s death will cast a huge shadow over the marathon event at Paris 2024, with tributes expected to mark the race. And many running enthusiasts will wonder if Kiptum would have become the first person to break the mythical 2-hour barrier–he was certainly on track to do so.
Who is Kelvin Kiptum?
Kiptum grew up in the village of Chepkorioin Kenya. At the age of 13, Kiptum joined a village running group, and at 18 won his first road race: the 2018 Eldoret Half Marathon.
Unlike Kipchoge, Kiptum didn’t enter marathon running from a track background as his village didn’t have a track and he didn’t have the money to travel the 40km to Eldoret to do track sessions.
“When I started training, it was with the marathoners and road racers, and I just found myself running road races so young,” he said.
Kiptum’s first international race was in 2019, over 10km, where he finished second in 28:17. Later that year, he competed in Sweden’s Göteborgsvarvet half-marathon, finishing sixth in 1:01:36. He would run another five half-marathons before claiming his maiden victory at that distance at the Le Lion Montbéliard to Belfort half in 2019.
In 2021, he competed in his first race at the full marathon distance at the Valencia Marathon, posting 2:01:53. That debut time was over three minutes faster than Kipchoge’s 2013 debut at the Hamburg Marathon (2:05:30).