Tributes poured in on Monday for Kenyan running sensation Kelvin Kiptum after the marathon world record holder was killed in a car crash aged 24.
The Paris 2024 Olympics favorite was driving from Kaptagat to Eldoret in western Kenya’s Rift Valley at around 11pm (2000 GMT) on Sunday when his car veered off the road and hit a tree.
Father-of-two Kiptum and his Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana were killed while a female passenger was seriously injured, police said.
“He lost control and went off the road entering a ditch on his left side. He drove into the ditch for about 60 meters before hitting a large tree,” said an official police report from Elgeyo Marakwet County where the accident occurred.
It said Kiptum and Hakizimana died on the spot, while passenger Sharon Chepkurui Kosgei was rushed to hospital with serious injuries.
Images in Kenyan media showed the mangled wreckage of the vehicle, its windshield smashed, the roof and doors bent and nearly torn off.
Kiptum burst onto the marathon scene when he ran a world record 2:00:35 in Chicago in October, knocking 34 seconds off fellow Kenyan star Eliud Kipchoge’s previous record.
He was only 23 at the time and was competing in only his third marathon.
Kiptum also won his other two attempts — his debut in Valencia in 2022 and a follow-up in London the following year.
Kipchoge said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of the record-breaking “rising star”.
“An athlete who had a whole life ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness,” Kipchoge said in a statement to X.
Kenyan President William Ruto described Kiptum as “one of the best athletes in the world who broke barriers to secure a marathon record”.
“A great athlete has left a great mark on the world,” he told X.
From herding goats just over a decade ago, Kiptum had announced that he would attempt in April to become the first man to run an official marathon under the mythical two-hour mark.
World Athletics said his debut was the fastest in history and mourned the loss of “one of the most exciting new prospects to emerge in road running in recent years”.
World Sports president Sebastian Coe said he was in Chicago just last week to officially endorse Kiptoum’s historic time.
“An incredible athlete who leaves an incredible legacy, he will be sorely missed,” Coe said in a statement.
Faith Kipyegon, who has set world records in the 1500m and 5000m, left a wordless tribute to X: three crying emojis and a Kenyan flag.
Kiptum and Kipchoge were expected to run together for the first time this summer at the Paris Olympics.
“With the Olympics just days away, we mourn the untimely departure of a promising talent,” Kenya National Olympic Committee president Paul Tergat told X.
“Kelvin’s recent certified record in Chicago demonstrated his potential for a bright future, representing the next generation of Olympic greatness.”
Kenyan two-time Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha described his death as a “huge loss”.
Kiptum hailed from Chepkorio, a village in the Rift Valley that is the heart of distance running in Kenya and where his death eventually occurred.
Ten years ago, just a teenager, he was herding goats and sheep and then began following Hakizimana and other runners as they trained in the legendary high-altitude region.
So far in 2019, Kiptum has run two half marathons in two weeks, clocking 60:48 in Copenhagen and 59:53 in Belfort, France. He began training with Hakizimana, who stayed in Kenya when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
Kiptum’s death is the latest in a saga of tragedies to befall Kenya’s young athletes.
In 2011, Kenyan marathon great Samuel Wanjiru died at the same age after winning the title at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
According to a pathologist, Wanjiru was killed by a blow to the head with a blunt object.
In 2021, distance running star Agnes Tirop was found stabbed to death aged 25 at her home in Iten, near Eldoret.
Her husband Ibrahim Rotich went on trial for her murder last November.
In late December, Kenyan-born Ugandan athlete Benjamin Kiplagat was found dead in his car near Eldoret with a knife to his throat. Two men are charged with his murder.
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