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Kenya feels marathon hero Kiptum's loss as Olympics near

Mourners queued to pay their respects at the coffin of Kelvin Kiptum following his death in a car crash (LUIS TATO)
Mourners queued to pay their respects at the coffin of Kelvin Kiptum following his death in a car crash (LUIS TATO)

Kenya had been hoping the late world marathon record-holder Kelvin Kiptum could break the two-hour barrier at the Paris Olympics, the head of Kenyan athletics said, calling his tragic death "devastating".

Kiptum, a 24-year-old father of two, was killed in a late-night car crash on February 11, just months after setting a new marathon record in Chicago with a time of 2:00:35.

The shock of his loss was felt worldwide, leaving sports fans thinking of the last great landmark in modern athletics and what might have been this August at the 2024 Games.

"He was a young man; he was just coming up; he was only 24; and he had just broken the world record. And so everybody was really devastated," Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei told AFP.

"What was so sad was that everybody was looking to him to do well in the Olympics and maybe lower the marathon record below two hours," the national governing body chief said.

"Everybody was looking forward to having him in good shape so he could break another record.

"What we need to do now is to follow up and see how we can support the family."

Tuwei was in Geneva for the World Health Organization's annual assembly, alongside Kenya's 800 metres world record holder David Rudisha, to campaign for clean air for athletes.

Although Kiptum only competed in three marathons -- Valencia 2022, London 2023 and Chicago 2023 -- he won them all, posting three of the seven fastest times in history.

Kenya's President William Ruto and World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe, plus top runners including Rudisha, attended Kiptum's funeral in the country's athletics heartland where he was born, trained and died.

- 'More can be achieved' -

"Kelvin was such a wonderful athlete. He showed the world that there's still more that can be achieved," Rudisha told AFP.

"He was very impressive. He came up within a very short time. Nobody really knew him that much until he broke the world record.

"It was really sad for Kenya, because when we have such athletes, who bring pride into our country -- and especially in a year like this when he was at the top -- we were expecting that he could win an Olympic medal.

"It was a great loss for Kenya and a great loss for sport."

Rudisha's 800m world record time of 1:40.91, set at the London 2012 Olympics, has never been beaten. Six of the eight fastest 800m times in history were set by Rudisha.

And since 1979, only Britain's Coe, Denmark's Wilson Kipketer, from 1997, and then Rudisha from 2010 have held the world record.

Now retired, Rudisha, 35, said he was looking forward to the 800 metres contest at the Paris Games.

"From Kenya, we have Emmanuel Wanyonyi. Marco Arop from Canada. And I saw also a young kid Djamel Sedjati from Algeria running the world-leading time in Ostrava. This is really amazing. We are looking forward to see how they are going to perform," he said.

"In the Olympics, anything can happen. It's always very competitive and everybody goes there to win. So there's a lot of expectation."

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