NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptom, who was poised to become a long-distance running superstar, was killed along with his coach in a car crash in Kenya late Sunday.
Kiptum was 24 and the world record he set at last year's Chicago Marathon was ratified by the international track federation World Athletics just last week.
He was one of the most exciting prospects to emerge in road running in the last few years and was a clear contender for marathon gold at the Paris Olympics in August.
Kiptom, who was Kenyan, and his Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana died in the crash at about 11 p.m. Milka Chemose, another Kenyan athlete, confirmed his death to the Associated Press. She was at the hospital morgue where bodies were taken and saw Kiptam's body, she said.
She was crying and struggling to speak.
"I have no words to explain the loss of Kelvin," she said.
Kemos said the crash occurred on a road between the western Kenyan cities of Eldoret and Kaptagat, in the middle of the high-altitude region famous as a training base for top distance runners in Kenya and around the world. Kiptam was born and brought up in this area.
Chemose said that after hearing the news she went to the hospital with other athletes and Kiptum's family members. Family members, including Kiptam's father, were present there to identify his body.
Kaptagat area police chief Dennis Muga said Kiptum was driving and it was the only car involved in the accident.
Kenneth Kimaiyo, a friend of Kiptum, said he arrived at the scene soon after the accident occurred and found that Kiptum had been thrown out of the car. The car appeared to have left the road at high speed and struck a tree before rolling over, Kimaiyo said.
A third person, a woman, was also in the car and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries, he said.
Photographs from the scene show a silver car with its roof badly damaged and one of its doors open.
The Kenyan Track Federation said it was saddened to announce the deaths of Kiptom and Hakizimana.
Kiptom was the first person to run a marathon in under 2 hours, 1 minute in an official race when he set a world record of 2:00.35 in Chicago in October, surpassing fellow Kenyan and marathon great Eliud Kipchoge. He made this record in his third top level marathon.
Kiptom and Kipchoge were expected to provide a fascinating all-Kenyan battle for marathon gold in Paris. Kiptum was scheduled to begin her season at the Rotterdam Marathon in April, which would have been her first event since breaking the world record.
Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, was one of the first to express his condolences in a statement on Twitter.
"We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptom and his coach Gervais Hakizimana," Coe wrote. "On behalf of all of World Athletics we express our deepest condolences to his families, friends, teammates and the Kenyan nation."
“Earlier this week in Chicago, the venue where Kelvin set his extraordinary marathon world record, I was able to officially confirm his historic time. An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him greatly,” Coe wrote.
David Rudisha, Kenya's two-time Olympic champion in the 800 metres, wrote on Twitter that Kiptum's death was "a huge loss".
Kiptum had immediate success running the fastest time ever by a marathon debutant at the 2022 Valencia Marathon. The following year, he won the London and Chicago races, two of the most prestigious marathons in the world. Despite being young and new to the circuit, he had already run three of the seven fastest marathons ever recorded.
He was the latest of several top Kenyan runners to die in tragic road accidents.
All-Africa Games silver medalist David Lelei died in a car accident in 2010. Marathon runner Francis Kiplagat was among five people killed in an accident in 2018. Nicholas Bate, who won gold in the 400 meters hurdles at the 2015 World Championships, also died in a car accident in 2018.
Rudisha, former 10,000 meters world champion Moses Tanui and Olympic silver medalist Paul Tergett have all survived serious road accidents.
2008 Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru, also considered the greatest of all time, died in 2011 at the age of 24 after falling from the balcony of his home in Kenya.
Imre reported from Cape Town, South Africa.
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