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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Kelvin Kiptum, marathon world record-holder, dies at 24

Kelvin Kiptum (Wikipedia)

By Victor Mather

Kelvin Kiptum, who shattered the world record in the men’s marathon last year, finishing tantalizingly close to the mythical and once unfathomable two-hour barrier, died last weekend in Kaptagat in western Kenya. He was 24.

His death, in a car accident on Sunday, was announced by Athletics Kenya, the governing body for track and field in that country. Kiptum’s coach, Gervais Hakizimana, was also killed in the crash.

Kiptum, who was driving, veered off the road into a ditch and then hit a large tree, the authorities said. He and Hakizimana were killed instantly. A third person in the car, Sharon Kosgei, was injured.

After some good performances in half marathons, Kiptum broke through in his first marathon in Valencia, Spain, in 2022, with a winning time of 2:01:53. At the London Marathon in 2023, he crushed the field to win in 2:01:25, the second-fastest time in history, 16 seconds short of the world record of 2:01:09 held by Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya.

Kiptum didn’t fall short on his next try. In October in Chicago, on a flat course known for producing fast times, Kiptum obliterated the record, recording a time of 2:00:35. It was only his third marathon.

“A world record was not in my mind today,” he told reporters after the race. “I saw the time in front of me. I said, Let me try; maybe I can run under 2:00.”

Because hundreds of Kenyans have been barred from the sport in the past decade over doping violations, his record drew not only wonderment, but also scrutiny. “My secret is training,” Kiptum, who was never accused of doping and had no drug suspensions, told reporters last fall. “Not any other thing.”

Kelvin Kiptum was born on Dec. 2, 1999, in Chepsamo, Kenya. He worked as a goat herder as a young man and trained as an electrician before becoming a runner.

“I knew him when he was a little boy, herding livestock barefooted,” Hakizimana told the BBC last year. “It was in 2009, I was training near his father’s farm, he’d come kicking at my heels and I would chase him away.”

News of Kiptum’s death brought tributes from Kenya, throughout Africa and across the world of road running. “He was only 24,” William Ruto, Kenya’s president, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Kiptum was our future. An extraordinary sportsman has left an extraordinary mark in the globe.”

Kiptum’s survivors include his wife and two children. Complete information about his survivors was not immediately available.

Kiptum’s record time in Chicago raised hopes that he could one day break the two-hour mark, a time long thought to be unreachable. In Vienna in 2019, Kipchoge ran the 26.2-mile distance in 1:59:40 but the mark did not count as a world record because he used professional pacesetters to help him and he was not running under open marathon conditions.

Kiptum was considering an attempt to break the barrier officially in the 2024 Rotterdam Marathon in April. “I am going to Rotterdam to run fast,” he told reporters in December. “The course is good and the fans in the streets encourage you to run faster. I would like to be a part of the rich history of this marathon.”

After Rotterdam, Kiptum and Kipchoge were expected to be the favorites to win the Olympic Marathon in Paris this summer.

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