Kelvin Kiptum and the death of a dream

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The world woke to tragic news on Monday 12th February. Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana had died in a car crash in his home country of Kenya. The news was a complete shock. A twenty-four year old man at the absolute zenith of physical health with seemingly limitless potential was robbed of the rest of his life.

Kiptum was a marathon runner. At the time of his death, he was THE marathon runner. The world record holder and holder of three of the fastest seven times in history, it was clear to everyone invested in marathon running that Kiptum was nailed on to be one of the greatest runners ever seen at any distance.

Remarkably, Kiptum ran his first professional marathon in 2022 at Valencia, becoming the quickest debutant in the sport’s history. His run in London in 2023 was a mere sixteen seconds behind the world record, and in October of that year he smashed Eliud Kipchoge’s record by 34 seconds to cut the ribbon at 2:00:35. The normalisation of seeing the number two at the start of marathon times means it takes a few moments to appreciates how absurd that time is, but it is always worth taking a step back and understanding the physical impossibility that two hours flat evokes. Kiptum’s ‘kick’ (upping the pace for a period of time) at 35k in all three of his marathons makes me feel physically sick just seeing his splits, as he ran the quickest part of his race just five kilometres from the finish, giving him that extra minute or so over his record-seeking competitors.

Kiptum’s ‘kick’ at 35k in all three of his marathons makes me feel physically sick just seeing his splits

Many people surrounding the sport mourned the loss of Kiptum as the loss of the planet’s best chance of producing a sub two-hour runner. Elite runners have sought to defy scientists’ predictions of when the first sub-two-hour marathon will be run. Nike’s ‘Breaking2’ campaign saw Eliud Kipchoge come close in 2017, and the Kenyan ran an unbelievable 1:59:40 in Vienna in 2019 thanks to the help of pacemakers and investment by Ineos. However, the world record was untouched as pacemakers are not allowed for the record, and three years later it was Kiptum who officially surpassed Kipchoge’s time from Berlin in 2019.

World Athletics President stated “On behalf of all World Athletics, we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, team mates 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.”

Kiptum’s death is a tragedy in the true sense of the word. Life was his play – a strong character with limitless potential, succeeding at what he wanted the most. And yet his story suffered a deeply unhappy and premature ending. For athletics, it feels like the death of a dream. Kiptum represented everything sport is about. He was pushing the boundaries of the sport to places most never thought they would reach, inspiring those watching. And just like a dream, it seems we’ve all woken up to find it gone, and our spirits crushed.

Having only ever run three official marathons, Kelvin Kiptum died undefeated. I hope the incredible work by his coach and him will set an example for all marathon runners to follow, and that in the future someone is able to keep up with trail he blazed. I hope his family can heal in time. I hope we can celebrate the joy and hope he brought to so many.

Rest in peace Kelvin Kiptum.

Image: Chad Veal via Wikimedia Commons

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