Marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum dies in car crash in Kenya. GETTY IMAGES

Kelvin Kiptum, one of the favourites to win a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics and one of the athletes on the verge of making athletics history, has died in a car accident in Kenya at the age of 24. He was driving his car when it veered off the road and overturned. His coach, Rwandan Gervais Hakizimana, also died.

The athletics world is shocked by the tragic death of 24-year-old Kelvin Kiptum. He was driving from Kaptagat to Eldoret when his car crashed at around 11pm (2000 GMT) on Sunday. His car overturned. The young athlete and his Rwandan coach, Gervais Hakizimana, were killed.

"There were three people in the car, two died in the accident and one was taken to hospital. The two are Kiptum and his coach," said Peter Mulinge, police commander for Elgeyo Marakwet county in western Kenya, where the accident occurred. He was quoted by AFP as saying.

Kiptum set the world marathon record in Chicago in 2023. GETTY IMAGES
Kiptum set the world marathon record in Chicago in 2023. GETTY IMAGES

"It was Kiptum who was driving towards Eldoret. The vehicle lost control and overturned, killing the two on the spot. A passenger was injured. She was rushed to hospital," he told reporters after the incident. The passenger was identified as Sharon Kosgei and she remains in hospital with serious injuries.

It is a tragedy. At just 24, Kiptum was the marathon's new frontrunner, an athlete destined for the highest ranks in the history. The Kenyan burst onto the marathon scene when he set a world record of 2:00:35 in Chicago in October, shaving 34 seconds off the previous record held by fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge. He was only 23 at the time and running in only his third marathon.

Kiptum also won on his other two attempts, his debut in Valencia in 2022 and a follow-up in London the following year. The Kenyan had announced that he would attempt to become the first man to run an official marathon in under two hours on 14 April in Rotterdam. 

He was also the overwhelming favourite for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. World Athletics remembered Kiptum as "one of the most exciting prospects to emerge in road running in recent years".

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement: "We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana. On behalf of World Athletics, we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the people of Kenya."

Coe said he was in Chicago just last week to "officially ratify" Kiptum's historic time, which currently stands as the best mark of all time. "An incredible athlete who leaves an incredible legacy. He will be greatly missed," added the Briton.

Kiptum about to stop the clock at 2:00:35, the marathon world record. GETTY IMAGES
Kiptum about to stop the clock at 2:00:35, the marathon world record. GETTY IMAGES

Meanwhile, Kenya's two-time Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha said: "I am shocked and deeply saddened" by the news. "He posted on social media platform X (formerly Twitter): "This is a great loss. Athletics Kenya sent its condolences "to the entire athletics community at this difficult time". Kiptum's agent, Marc Corstjens, also confirmed the "sad news".

Kiptum was born in Chepkorio, a village in the Rift Valley, the cradle of Kenyan distance running, where he also died. It was there, at the age of just 24, that he carved out an enduring legend for himself. Ten years ago, as a teenager, he was herding goats and sheep until he began following his coach, the Rwandan Hakizimana, and other runners as they trained in the legendary highlands.

From the moment he started competing, he showed his enormous virtues. He was always a winner. By 2019, Kiptum had run two half-marathons in two weeks. He clocked 60:48 in Copenhagen and 59:53 in Belfort, France. 

He began training with Hakizimana, who had remained in Kenya when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. It was there that he began his spectacular rise to fame, overtaking compatriot Elius Kipchoge to become the fastest man ever to run the epic distance of 42,195 metres.

Kiptum's death is the latest in a series of tragedies to befall Kenya's young and promising athletes. In 2011, the great Kenyan marathoner Samuel Wanjiru died at the same age. Wanjiru had won the Olympic title in Beijing in 2008. According to a pathologist, he died from a blow to the head with a blunt object. 

In 2021, long-distance running star Agnes Tirop, aged 25, was found stabbed to death at her home in Iten, near Eldoret, where by the way Kiptum was travelling when his vehicle overturned, killing him. Tirop's husband, Ibrahim Rotich, went on trial for her murder in November last year. He has denied the charges and was released on bail shortly before the trial began.

Kiptum was an autodidact, following only what he was told. Only his coach, who also died in the accident, intruded on his privacy to guide him along the path of logic. But he only listened to him about certain things. 

He was always a lover of the school of volume and kilometres. He could run more than 300 kilometres for weeks, although 220 or 230 was recommended to avoid injury. However, he loved developing new technologies: shoes, computers, measuring everything that could be measured. 

Kiptum never ran on the track. Unlike other great athletes, he always wanted to run on tarmac. Despite his age, his speciality was the long distance. You could say: A legend has died without having the time to become one.