Marathon world record-holder Kelvin Kiptum, who was set to be a superstar of long-distance running, was killed along with his coach in a car crash in Kenya late Sunday.
Kiptum was 24 and had the world record he set last year at the Chicago Marathon ratified by international track federation World Athletics just last week.
He was one of the most exciting prospects to emerge in road running in years, World Athletics said.
Kiptum, who was Kenyan, and his Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana were killed in the crash at around 11 p.m. Another Kenyan athlete, Milcah Chemos, confirmed their deaths to The Associated Press. She was at the hospital mortuary where the bodies were taken and had seen Kiptum’s body, she said.
She struggled to speak while breaking down in tears.
“I have no words to explain the loss of Kelvin,” she said.
The crash happened on a road between the towns of Eldoret and Kaptagat in western Kenya, Chemos said, in the heart of the high-altitude region that’s renowned as a training base for top distance runners from Kenya and across the world. Kiptum was born and raised in the area.
Chemos said she went to the hospital with other athletes and members of Kiptum’s family after hearing the news. The family members, which included Kiptum’s father, were there to identify his body.
Denis Muga, the area police chief for Kaptagat, said Kiptum was driving and it was the only car involved in the crash.
Kenneth Kimaiyo, a friend of Kiptum, said he arrived at the crash scene soon after it happened and Kiptum had been thrown out of the car. It appeared the car had veered off the road at high speed and collided with a tree before rolling, Kimaiyo said.
A third person, a woman, was also in the car and had been taken to the hospital with serious injuries, he said.
Photos from the scene showed the silver car with a badly mangled roof and one of the doors flung open.
The Kenyan track federation said it was saddened to announce the deaths of Kiptum and Hakizimana.
Kiptum was the first man to run the marathon in under 2 hours, 1 minute in an official race when he set the world record of 2:00.35 in Chicago in October, beating the mark of fellow Kenyan and marathon great Eliud Kipchoge. He set the record in just his third top-level marathon.
Kiptum was due to compete at the Rotterdam Marathon in April, which would have been his first event since breaking the world record.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe was one of the first to offer his condolences in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana,” Coe wrote. “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 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,” Coe wrote.
David Rudisha, Kenya’s two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters, wrote on X that Kiptum’s death was “a huge loss.”
Kiptum had immediate success by 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. While young and new to the circuit, he had already run three of the seven fastest marathon times ever recorded.
He was the latest of numerous top Kenyan runners to die in tragic road accidents.
David Lelei, an All-Africa Games silver medallist, died in a car crash in 2010. Marathon runner Francis Kiplagat was among five people who were killed in a crash in 2018. Nicholas Bett, who won gold in the 400 metres hurdles at the 2015 world championships, also died in a car crash in 2018.
Rudisha, former 10,000 metres world champion Moses Tanui and Olympic silver medallist Paul Tergat have all survived serious road accidents.
Samuel Wanjiru, the 2008 Olympic marathon champion who was also tipped to be an all-time great, died in 2011 at the age of 24 after falling from a balcony at his home in Kenya.