Wednesday, February 28, 2024

World marathon record holder Kiptum was destined for big things

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On May 15, 2011, Samuel Kamau Wanjiru, Kenya’s first Olympic marathon champion, was tragically killed after a fall off the balcony of his Nyahururu home.

The 2008 Tokyo Olympic Games gold medallist was 24 years old.

Six months earlier, Wanjiru had won the Chicago Marathon in dramatic fashion, defying injury to overhaul Ethiopia’s early pacesetter Tsegay Kebede and defend his title in the “Windy City” in two hours, six minutes and 24 seconds.

On Sunday night, Kenya’s latest marathon sensation, Kelvin Kiptum, was killed when his car crashed on the Ravine-Eldoret road. Like Wanjiru, he was 24 years old. And just four months ago, Kiptum, like Wanjiru, won the Chicago Marathon, but in an even more dramatic fashion, clocking a world record two hours and 35 seconds.

Meanwhile, on September 11, 2005, Wanjiru had broken the world record in the half marathon, running 59 minutes and 16 seconds in Rotterdam.

And, on April 14 this year, Kiptum was also headed to Rotterdam, also targeting a record-breaking run as he angled to become the first man to run a competitive marathon in under two hours.

The sense of deja vu and eerie similarity between Kiptum’s rise and demise, to that of Wanjiru’s, has baffled many. 

And it has, once again, triggered  questions over just what might have been if Kiptum had gone full distance, run in Rotterdam on April 14 and taken on compatriot and double Olympic marathon champion, Eliud Kipchoge, at the Paris Olympic Games in August.  

Kiptum’s fledgling life was suddenly cut short on Sunday night by the road accident that also claimed the life of his 37-year-old Rwandan coach, Gervais Hakizimana.

A third passenger, identified by police as 24-year-old Sharon Chepkurui Kosgei, was rushed to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret for treatment.

According to Elgeyo Marakwet County Commander Peter Mulinge, Sunday’s accident occurred at 11pm when the driver lost control and veered off the road before landing in a ditch.

Kiptum and Hakizimana died on the spot with Sharon rushed to hospital with serious injuries.

“This was a self-involved accident where one Kelvin Kiptum, the world marathon record holder, was driving his vehicle with two passengers.

“Kiptum and Hakizimana died on the spot and the third person was rushed to Racecourse Hospital in Eldoret,” said the county commander.

Kiptum, whose marathon record 2:00:35 was ratified just last week by the World Athletics, was positioning himself for an under two hours run at the Rotterdam Marathon on April 14 this year. 

He was also in the Kenyan team picked for the Olympic Games in Paris.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the news of the death of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana.”

“Both died last Sunday in a traffic accident in Kenya,” Rotterdam Marathon said in a statement yesterday.

“Kelvin, only 24 years old, leaves behind his wife and two children. Our thoughts are with his family and we wish them much strength and comfort during this difficult period.”

“Kelvin Kiptum,the world record holder in the marathon, would appear at the start of the NN Marathon Rotterdam in April. In the run-up to this, we got to know Kelvin, in addition to being an athlete, as a very nice and modest person.”

President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga led Kenyans in mourning the marathon star.

“He was only 24 yet, as a hero, triumphed in Valencia, Chicago, London and in other top competitions. His mental strength and discipline were unmatched. Kiptum was our future,” President Ruto said.

“An extraordinary sportsman has left an extraordinary mark on the globe. Our thoughts are with the family and the sporting fraternity. Rest In Peace.”

Odinga posted on ‘X’: “Devastating news as we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual, Kelvin Kiptum, World Record holder and Kenyan athletics icon… My deepest condolences to his loved ones, friends and the entire athletics fraternity. Our nation grieves the profound loss of a true hero.”

In his message, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, a British Olympic legend and multiple middle distance world record holder himself, said Kiptum would leave an “incredible legacy.”

“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,” Coe posted.

“It was only earlier this week in Chicago, the place where Kelvin set his extraordinary marathon World Record, that I was able to officially ratify his historic time. An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly.”

Kiptum’s Brussels-based management team, Golazo Sports, through CEO Bob Verbeeck, were devastated.

“Golazo Management Group is in shock and deeply saddened to hear that our beloved friend and world record-holder marathon Kelvin Kiptum died in a road traffic accident. Kiptum’s coach Gervais Hakizimana also died in the accident on Eldoret-Kaptagat Road in Kenya,” Verbeeck said.

“On behalf of all our colleagues and his friends at Golazo, we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends and all in the athletics family.”

“I got a message a few days ago that (Kiptum’s) training was going well and the families were all OK. Kelvin had just finished a very strong 40km session. And then last night….. we are beyond belief. Two dear friends have passed. All our thoughts are going towards their families. We will never forget.”

Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba announced that the government would take over the arrangements for Kiptum’s funeral. Namwamba stated that the 24-year-old athlete was a national hero and the country would “honour him in death as we honoured him in life.”

“We shall after this briefing travel to Kaptagat to view his remains and then consult with the family before sharing what we shall have discussed,” said Namwamba in the first of his briefings on the tragedy at the ministry’s offices at Talanta Plaza, Nairobi.

Kiptum left a widow, Asenath Cheruto, and two children.

“My son belonged to the world and he has been taken away from me in a painful way. Since birth, he was hard-working and took after his mother who was also an athlete. We are glad that he later became a world beater. He was my only son,” Kiptum’s father, Samson Cheruiyot, said at his home in Chepsamo village in Chepkorio, Elgeyo Marakwet County, yesterday.

“I expected my son to uplift our status but he has been snatched away from me. Nevertheless, I want to thank God for the days we lived with him. I have lost a treasure.”

Kiptum was cruising firmly on the highway to celebrity status.

He was already a superstar, his marathon world record run in Chicago last October catapulting him to near cult status in the running world.

Naturally, endorsements would flow in freely, and his Brussels-based management company – Golazo – was inundated with corporate offers.

On February 1, Kiptum signed a contract with Amazfit, a high-end Chinese sports watch whose manufacturers also penned a deal with organisers of the April 14 Rotterdam Marathon as official timing partner. In running 2:00:35, Kiptum became the first athlete to break 2:01 in a record-eligible marathon.

He won the race by almost three and a half minutes and took 34 seconds off double Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge’s previous world record.

By the time of his death, Kiptum held three of the seven fastest times in history to his name having also won the TCS London Marathon in April in 2:01:25 and was voted among the World Athletes of the Year for 2023 by World Athletics.

Naturally, he was destined to sign up more lucrative contacts.

As part of his strategic partnerships, like Kipchoge, Kiptum had also signed up with Maurten, a carbohydrate-rich sports drink popular with endurance athletes.

On January 14 this year, Kiptum unveiled his “number one” bib number for the April 14 Rotterdam marathon on his socials.

“Only three months to go and I’ll be wearing this bib number again in the streets of Rotterdam,” he wrote.

“Currently, my days consist of eat, sleep, train and repeat. My preparation is my main focus at the moment. I want to be the best version of myself when I start in Rotterdam.”

Kiptum rose steadily from obscurity into legendary status after competing in three marathons that catapulted him to global acclaim in Valencia, London and Chicago. 

Kiptum, who has been training in Chepkorio in Elgeyo Marakwet County under the watchful eye of his coach Hakizimana, had so far competed in three marathons since he ventured into the distance.

His journey, unlike many other Kenyan elite athletes, broke away from the tradition of honing skills on the track, going straight into road running where he would compete in various local competitions.

He was an average athlete at the start of his career.

In 2019, he launched his professional career at the Lisbon Half Marathon, his first international race, where finished fifth clocking 59 minutes and 54 seconds and competed in other races before winning the half marathon category of the Kass Half Marathon in the same year.

In an earlier interview, Kiptum admitted that, indeed, it was tough travelling to track sessions, disclosing that that’s why, when he started running seriously, he decided to join other athletes who were doing road races.

“Travelling for track sessions to Eldoret in Uasin Gishu County needs a lot of resources and that is why I decided to join a group that used to train near my home. That’s how I ventured into marathon races,” he said.

And, as the 2023 season started, he was lined up for the London Marathon race which was his first major marathon event in April.

He ran another course record of 2:01:25, lowering Eliud Kipchoge’s previous best time of 2:02:37 set in the English capital in 2019.

He would later continue with his training, deciding to shelve competing at the World Championships in Budapest last August to concentrate on his preparations for the Chicago Marathon on October 8 last year.

Nation Sport visited him at his training base in Chepkorio where he shared his journey on the athletics career and his goals ahead of the race where he revealed that he was aiming to lower the Chicago course record held by Dennis Kimetto.

True to his words, in his second World Marathon Majors race, Kiptum not only ran a course record, but he also smashed the world record by 34 seconds, becoming the first man to run under 2:01 hours when he clocked 2:00:35.

Sadly, he never lived to see the streets of Rotterdam again as he breathed his last on the Eldama Ravine-Eldoret road after Sunday night’s tragic road accident.

Reporting by Elias Makori, Bernard Rotich and Ayumba Ayodi

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