Current marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana died in a road accident Sunday night outside the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, Kenyan police confirmed.
The 24-year-old Kenyan athlete, who was driving a Toyota Premio, and his coach died at the scene of the crash, Elgeyo Marakwet County Police Commander Peter Mulinge told CNN.
A third occupant survived with serious injuries, Mulinge added.
“He lost control, veered off the road, entered into a ditch 60 meters away and hit a big tree,” Mulinge said. The accident happened around 11 p.m. local time.
Kiptum’s world record marathon time of 2:00:35 set in the Chicago Marathon in October last year was ratified just days ago by World Athletics. He had only switched to running the marathon from shorter distance races a year before setting that record pace.
He improved his personal best time by 50 seconds to beat the 2:01:09 record set by fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who is widely considered the greatest marathoner of all time. Kiptum was widely believed to be the successor to Kipchoge, and a possible contender to run the marathon in under 2 hours.
Hakizimana, 36 was a former professional athlete from Rwanda who participated in different races from the 5,000 meter to the half marathon.
Figures across the world of athletics and long distance running offered tributes and lamented the loss of such an athlete at his prime.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said Kiptum was “an incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly.”
“We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana,” Coe said. “On behalf of all World Athletics, we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the Kenyan nation.”
Coe added that, “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.”
Kiptum’s manager Bob Verbeeck described the athlete as a “beloved friend”.
“On behalf of all our colleagues and his friends at Golazo (Management Group), we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends and all in the athletics family,” Verbeeck said in a statement.
Messages of condolences also poured in on Kiptum’s official Instagram account following news of his death.
Organizers for the London Marathon shared a message on X. “We are shocked and deeply saddened. The thoughts of everyone at the TCS London Marathon are with Kelvin’s and Gervais’ family and friends.”
Kiptum’s loss would be felt in Chicago, said Carey Pinkowski, Executive Race Director, Bank of America Chicago Marathon, where Kipton made history in 2023.
“Kelvin was a once in a generation athlete at the front of his career,” Pinkowski said. “While he will be celebrated for his record-breaking performances, I will remember him as an incredible talent and as an even more magnificent person.”
“We were lucky to witness his greatness on the streets of Chicago,” he added. “The sport of marathon running has suffered a tragic loss.”
Kenyan Olympians have also expressed their grief. Double Olympic gold medalist David Rudisha, who survived a plane crash in 2022, called Kiptum’s death “a huge loss.” “My condolences to the families, friends, athletic fraternity and Kenya at large,” Rudisha wrote on X.
“I’m shocked to hear of the tragic accident that took the lives of Kevin Kiptum and his coach today,” said Bernard Lagat, a five-time Olympian and middle distance runner. “Gone too soon. RIP Champion.”
Australian former world champion marathon runner Robert de Castella said: “Just like that, a rising superstar is gone. Highlights how precious life is, and how vulnerable we all are.”
Kenya’s former prime minister was also among those paying respects. Writing on X, Raila Odinga described the deaths as “devastating news” and praised Kiptum as a Kenyan athletics icon. “Our nation grieves the profound loss of a true hero.”
Kenyan sports minister Ababu Namwamba also shared condolences on X: “Kenya has lost a special gem. Lost for words.”