Fastest man in the world: Kelvin Kiptum's incredible journey finishes where it started too soon
One of the most promising careers in athletics has come to a premature end as marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum died in a car crash.
About 10 years before Kelvin Kiptum exploded onto the marathon scene by going 34 seconds faster than his legendary compatriot Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan was herding cattle in his native Chepkorio village. Situated in the Rift Valley province, which is the heart and soul of Kenya's proud distance running legacy from where the likes of Kipchoge emerged, Kiptum would follow the distance runners as they trained in the high-altitude region, including his eventual coach Gervais Hakizimana.
On Monday, Kiptum's life ended just over 10km away from the village as the marathon world record holder and Hakizimana died in a car crash. The 24-year-old was driving from Kaptagat to Eldoret around 11 pm (2000 GMT) on Sunday when the car rolled, killing the young sensation and his Rwandan coach.
Kiptum started training around 2013 itself when he was about 13 years old. Five years later, he recorded his first win, taking the Family Bank Eldoret Half Marathon with a time of 62:01. By the time 2019 came to an end, Kiptum had won a half-marathon in France and finished second in a 10k in the Netherlands. He finally stepped into the full marathon races about two years later and won his first marathon in Valencia in December 2022 with a timing of 2:01:53, the third-fastest in history.
"It was the start of the marathon journey, and I was so happy. My target in Valencia was to run 2:04, 2:05…. then I ran 2:01. But looking back before Valencia I had had some of my best training for the marathon with some good long runs," Kiptum told Olympics.com in October last year, just before he made heads turn around the world with his record-breaking run in Chicago. London was his next marathon and he improved his timing to 2:01:25.
With that, the chances of him running a marathon in under two hours started looking like a real possibility and in order to work towards that goal before the next big marathon in Chicago, Kiptum made himself unavailable for the 2023 Athletics World Championships. He may not have ended up breaking the 2-hour barrier but he came closer than anyone before, including the iconic Kipchoge, by running Chicago Marathon in 2:00:35. He had done it at the age of 23 running just his third marathon.
That race revealed his trademark approach to marathons, running with the pack for the first 30kms and then upping the pace and racing off alone for the remainder of the race. He had used the same tactics to win in London as well in Chicago, it helped him go a whopping 34 seconds clear of Kipchoge's world record.
Paris Olympics dreams
Kiptum's shadow will linger on the runners when they take off during the men's marathon in the Paris Olympics. The 24-year-old may have given the Worlds a miss but Paris 2024 was very much in his crosshairs. "If I get a chance to be selected by the selectors, I’ll be thankful and I’ll go there and try to win a medal," Kiptum had said.
That was before the run in Chicago. After that, he was the outright favourite going into the Paris Olympics, with expectations being that he would break the 2-hour barrier at the Games. As fate would have it though, Chicago was also the last time the world got to see him race.