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28 Feb 2024 0:02
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  •   Home > News > Sports

    World pays tribute to 'Bolt-esque' marathon legend Kelvin Kiptum

    Kelvin Kiptum is being remembered as a "generational talent" who "had a whole life ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness".

    The marathon world remains in mourning after losing one of its brightest talents in world record holder Kelvin Kiptum.

    The rising Kenyan star had only raced three marathons in his all-too-brief career, but did so with such panache that his rivals described him as "Usain Bolt-esque".

    His first-ever marathon, in Valencia in December 2022, saw him run the fourth-fastest time in history.

    His second, at the prestigious London Marathon, resulted in him breaking the course record and running the then-second fastest time ever.

    By the time he crossed the line in Chicago in October last year, he was the world record holder

    That record was only ratified five days before his death, the only positive in this heartbreaking story being perhaps that he was alive to see the record confirmed.

    The 24-year-old and his coach Gervais Hakizimana were killed in a car crash in Kenya, resulting in an outpouring of grief from around the world.

    Kiptum's father, Samson Cheruiyot, a farmer in Kenya's Rift Valley who initially frowned on his son's pursuit of a career in athletics, said in an interview with regional network Citizen TV that he had lost his only child, adding his son had promised a day before his death to build him a house and buy him a car through his running.

    Just six years ago, Kiptum did not have enough money to buy shoes to run in, and only pursued a career on the road because he could not afford to travel to events on the track circuit.

    "We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana," World Athletics president, Lord Sebastian Coe wrote on X.

    "On behalf of all World Athletics we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the Kenyan nation.

    "An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly."

    Marathon running has never been glamorous. It requires long, painful hours of solitary work.

    But Kiptum was emerging as a genuine superstar. His death will leave an enormous hole in a sport crying out for new legends to rally behind.

    Having broken the record of his legendary countryman Eliud Kipchoge in Chicago last October, Kiptum had already set his eyes on becoming the first man to legally run a sub-two-hour marathon in Rotterdam next month.

    Kipchoge famously became the first man to run the distance in under two hours in a carefully stage-managed event in Vienna in 2019, a record that was not ratified by World Athletics.

    But the 39-year-old, who had won the last two Olympic gold medals, is still the benchmark, with the race in Paris on the last day of the 2024 Games set to be a showdown of epic proportions between the old guard and the new.

    The fact there appeared to be little to no recognition between the two stars only added to the intrigue.

    It's a head-to-head that will now only exist in our dreams.

    "I am deeply saddened by the tragic passing of the marathon world record holder and rising star Kelvin Kiptum," Kipchoge wrote in a statement.

    "[He was] an athlete who had a whole life ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness.

    "I offer my deepest condolences to his young family. May God comfort you during this trying time."

    Kiptum was, by any measure, developing as a stunning racer, cruising with the lead pack for the first 30km of a marathon before accelerating with a devastating burst of pace to obliterate his challengers.

    His three marathons were all run with a negative split, meaning he ran the second half of the race faster than the first.

    British marathon runner Emile Cairess, who came sixth in last year's London Marathon, when Kiptum set a new course record of 2 hours, 1 minute and 25 seconds in what was just his second-ever race over the distance, said the Kenyan could have become athletics' "figurehead", a new Usain Bolt.

    "It's a massive blow because at his level someone can really capture the attention of people outside of the sport," Cairess said in an interview with the BBC.

    "Many people thought they would never see a sub-two-hour marathon in their lifetimes but since he came along it's like it was just a given that he would do it because of his exceptional performances so far.

    "It was almost certain that he would have done it. It's terribly sad and a real shame that we won't get to see him again or to attack that barrier."

    Hugh Brasher, the event director of the London Marathon, said Kiptum "was a once-in-a-generation athlete who was set to redefine the boundaries of our sport".

    "His was a flame that burned so bright and was tragically put out," he said.

    "As a sport, we mourn for a life so tragically cut short, a talent and a work ethos that was only starting to be appreciated and a man that we had only just started to know."

    Australian marathon legend Rob de Castella described the news as a "shocking tragedy".

    "Just like that, a rising superstar is gone. [It] highlights how precious life is and how vulnerable we all are."

    Kiptum is survived by his wife and two children.

    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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