Kelvin Kiptum, the world marathon record holder and the reigning winner of the London Marathon, has died in a car crash in Kenya.
His death was reported on Sunday night by The Standard newspaper in Kenya, who said that Kiptum and his Rwandan coach and mentor, Gervais Hakizimana, were killed while driving between Eldoret and Kaptagat, which are two of the major bases for Kenyan endurance runners.
The accident happened at 11pm, local-time, on Sunday in Kenya. A police statement said that Kiptum had “lost control [of the vehicle] and veered off-road entering into a ditch on his left side” before “hitting a big tree” around 60 metres later.
Kosgei, a 24-year-old passenger in the Toyota Premio, was taken to hospital with what were described as “serious” injuries.
Kiptum took long distance running by storm last year, becoming the first man inside 2hr 1min to beat Eliud Kipchoge’s world record at the Chicago Marathon after also dominating the London Marathon in what was the third fastest ever time over the 26.2 mile distance.
His compatriot Kipchoge posted a message on social media on Monday morning: “I am deeply saddened by the tragic passing of the marathon world record holder and rising star Kelvin Kiptum,” he wrote. “An athlete who had a whole life ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness. I offer my deepest condolences to his young family. May God comfort you during this trying time.”
Kiptum, who completed his only three marathon races in times among the seven fastest in history, is survived by his wife Asenath Rotich and their two children.
A report in the Nation newspaper quoted Peter Mulinge, the local police commander. “This was a self-involved accident where one Kelvin Kiptum, the world marathon record holder, was driving his vehicle with two passengers,” said Mulinge. “Kiptum and Hakizimana died on the spot and the third person was rushed to Racecourse Hospital in Eldoret.”
Musalia Mudavadi, who is Kenya’s cabinet secretary, wrote: “I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Kelvin Kiptum. His remarkable talent and unwavering dedication to athletics inspired countless individuals.
“He made an indelible mark not only through his achievements but also through mentorship and leadership, guiding aspiring athletes to reach their full potential. The legacy he leaves behind is a testament to passion and commitment to excellence.
“During this difficult time, my thoughts and prayers are with their family, friends and teammates. May you find comfort in the cherished memories you shared and strength in the support of one another.”
Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, was also among those to pay tribute:
We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana.
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… pic.twitter.com/dDBKgjXNKL
— Seb Coe (@sebcoe) February 11, 2024
Kiptum, who was widely regarded as a once-in-a-generation talent, was the clear favourite for Olympic gold in Paris this summer where Kipchoge, his legendary compatriot, will be going for a hat-trick of marathon titles.
Kiptum’s historic time of 2hr 0m 35sec was set in October and he was in the final weeks of training for the Rotterdam Marathon in April after also being selected in the Kenyan team for the Olympic marathon in August.
‘A flame that burned so bright tragically put out’
Although Kipchoge became the first human to run a marathon under two hours in a controlled time trial event with pacers in Vienna in 2019, Kiptum had looked increasingly likely to become the first person to achieve that feat in ratified race conditions. In April 2023, he set a course record of 2:01:25 at the London Marathon.
Hugh Brasher, the London Marathon event director, said on Monday: “Kelvin had the sport of marathon running in his feet and at his feet. He was a ‘once in a generation’ athlete who was set to redefine the boundaries of our sport. Three marathons, three wins. The fastest marathon debutant in Valencia, London’s course record holder and the world record holder in Chicago, all within the space of less than 12 months. His was a flame that burned so bright and last night was tragically put out.
“As a sport we mourn for a life so tragically cut short, a talent and a work ethos that was only starting to be appreciated and a man that we had only just started to know. Our thoughts are with his family and friends and those of his coach Gervais. We hope that Sharon Chepkurui Kosgei, who was travelling with them, makes a full and speedy recovery.”
Kiptum was named the ‘off track’ athlete of the year by World Athletics in December and, having begun serious running barefoot while also herding cattle for his family, admitted that he had never previously set foot on an athletics track.
“I had no track to train on,” he said. “I got into road running, half marathon, 10km. And always I was training with a group of marathon runners. So, I ended up running marathons.
“I was a herdsman for many years. It was my life, as it was for a lot of others. But I had to find time for my running.”
Kiptum’s death has left Kenya, and the wider world athletics community, in a state of shock and mourning.
“Devastating news as we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual: Kelvin Kiptum, world record holder and Kenyan athletics icon,” said Raila Odinga, the Kenyan prime minister between 2008 and 2013. “Together with his coach, they tragically passed on in an accident tonight. My deepest condolences to his loved ones, friends, and the entire athletics fraternity. Our nation grieves the profound loss of a true hero.”
Gideon Kimaiyo, a member of parliament for Keiyo in Kenya, said: “Kelvin Kiptum was at the prime of his career, a legend in his own right.”
IOC president Thomas Bach said: “It is with extreme sadness that I learnt of the tragic passing of world marathon record-holder Kelvin Kiptum from Kenya in a car accident. We had been looking forward to welcoming him into the Olympic community at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and seeing what the fastest marathon runner in the world could achieve.
“Our thoughts are with his family and friends as well as with those of his coach, Gervais Hazimana, who also died in the accident.”