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World marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum dies in road accident

World marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana died in a traffic accident on Sunday, February 12, 2024, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said on social media platform X.

Kenya’s Minister for Sports, Ababu Namwamba, said on X , “Devastatingly sickening!! Kenya has lost a special gem. Lost for words.”

Kiptum, 24, set the world record at the Chicago Marathon in October with a time of 2:00:35 to surpass the record of 2:01:09 set by his compatriot Eliud Kipchoge in Berlin in 2022.

Kiptum smashed the London Marathon course record earlier last year and was determined to make magic again in Chicago as he sped up through the 35-kilometre mark before thrusting his arms in the air to cheers from the crowd down the final stretch.

He was one of the most exciting prospects to emerge in road running in years and was a clear contender for gold in the marathon at the Paris Olympics in August.

Also read: Kelvin Kiptum in the time of Eliud Kipchoge — how the marathon just got more interesting

Kiptum, who was Kenyan, and his Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana were killed in the crash at around 11 p.m. Another Kenyan athlete, Milcah Chemos, confirmed their deaths to The Associated Press. She was at the hospital mortuary where the bodies were taken and had seen Kiptum’s body, she said.

She struggled to speak while breaking down in tears.

“I have no words to explain the loss of Kelvin,” she said.

The crash happened on a road between the towns of Eldoret and Kaptagat in western Kenya, Chemos said, in the heart of the high-altitude region that’s renowned as a training base for top distance runners from Kenya and across 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. The family members, which included Kiptum’s father, were there to identify his body.

The wreckage of the vehicle in which Kenya’s marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach were killed is towed from the scene of the accident along the Kaptagat to Eldoret highway, near the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, Kenya February 12, 2024.
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Badly mangled car

Denis Muga, the area police chief for Kaptagat, said Kiptum was driving and it was the only car involved in the crash.

Kenneth Kimaiyo, a friend of Kiptum, said he arrived at the crash scene soon after it happened and Kiptum had been thrown out of the car. It appeared the car had veered off 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 had been taken to the hospital with serious injuries, he said.

Photos from the scene showed the silver car with a badly mangled roof and one of the doors flung open.

The Kenyan track 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, 1 minute in an official race when he set the world record of 2:00.35 in Chicago in October, beating the mark of fellow Kenyan and marathon great Eliud Kipchoge. He set the record in just his third top-level marathon.

Kiptum and Kipchoge were expected to provide an enticing all-Kenyan battle for marathon gold in Paris. 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 all World Athletics we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the Kenyan nation.”

“It was only earlier this week in Chicago, the place 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, we will miss him dearly,” Coe wrote.

David Rudisha, Kenya’s two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters, wrote on X that Kiptum’s death was “a huge loss.”

Kiptum had immediate success by running the fastest time ever by a marathon debutant 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 young and new to the circuit, he had already run three of the seven fastest marathon times ever recorded.

He was the latest of numerous top Kenyan runners to die in tragic road accidents.

David Lelei, an All-Africa Games silver medalist, died in a car crash in 2010. Marathon runner Francis Kiplagat was among five people who were killed in a crash in 2018. Nicholas Bett, who won gold in the 400 meters hurdles at the 2015 world championships, also died in a car crash 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 tipped to be an all-time great, died in 2011 at the age of 24 after falling from a balcony at his home in Kenya.

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