Life & Work

Kelvin Kiptum was the next big thing in global marathon

Kelvin Kiptum

The vehicle which World Marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum (inset), his Rwandese coach Garvais Hakizimana and another occupant were travelling in before they were involved in a fatal road crash on the Eldoret-Eldama Ravine road on February 11, 2024. PHOTOS | JARED NYATAYA | REUTERS

Hours after Kelvin Kiptum confirmed his entry for this year’s Rotterdam Marathon last November, organisers were forced to close registration for the April 14 race as the numbers immediately hit the ceiling.

Race Director Mario Kadiks was suddenly left dealing with a long waiting list of more than 14,000 runners, underscoring the rising profile of Kiptum, who is also the latest winner of the Business Daily’s Top 40 Under 40 Men.

Kiptum, 24, had announced that he would attempt to run the April 14 Rotterdam Marathon in under two hours, seeking to become the first man to dip under two hours in a competitive marathon.

On October 12, 2019, Eliud Kipchoge clocked one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds in a choreographed race in the Austrian capital, Vienna, dubbed “INEOS 1:59 Challenge” and bankrolled by British petrochemicals firm, INEOS.

But the Prater Park race didn’t count as an official record under World Athletics regulations given the sort of external assistance Kipchoge was offered.

That’s why there was overwhelming interest in the April 14 Rotterdam Marathon and Kiptum’s sub-two-hour attempt “under normal conditions”.

“The popularity of the NN Marathon Rotterdam grows every year. We were full within a few days and have a waiting list that now includes more than 14,000 participants,” Kadiks told the Business Daily in November.

The Rotterdam Marathon attracts as many as 35,000 runners, including the elites.

Entry into the marathon is on an incremental, first-come-first-served basis, with the first 3,000 runners paying 97.5 euros (Sh16,233) and the next 3,000 entries charged at 105 euros (Sh17,841).

Athletes registering between 6,000 and 12,000 pay 112.50 euros (Sh19,137) and thereafter entries are charged 120 euros (Sh20,505) each.

It was when he announced his Rotterdam entry last November that, within hours, entries closed.

“I want to run here fast. This flat course lends itself to fast times and the enthusiastic masses of people along the road push us forward. I would like to be part of the rich history of this marathon,” said Kiptum at a press conference in Rotterdam while announcing his entry.

“I’ll try to at least beat my world record here. I know I’m capable of doing that if my preparation works out well and conditions are OK… There’s no limit to human energy.”

Read: Detectives probe mechanical condition of vehicle that claimed Kiptum

Tragically, while the preparations were working out well, with Kiptum completing a 35-kilometre long run in Kaptagat last Thursday and a “fartlek” intervals training session two days later on Saturday, his life, and dreams, were suddenly cut short on Sunday night by the road accident that also claimed the life of his 37-year-old Rwandan coach, Gervais Hakizimana.

A third passenger identified by police as 24-year-old Sharon Chepkurui Kosgei, was rushed to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret for treatment.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the news of the death of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana. Both died last Sunday in a traffic accident in Kenya,” Rotterdam Marathon said in a statement on Monday.

“Kelvin, only 24 years old, leaves behind his wife and two children. Our thoughts are with his family and we wish them much strength and comfort during this difficult period.

“Kelvin Kiptum (24), the world record holder in the marathon, would appear at the start of the NN Marathon Rotterdam in April. In the run-up to this, we got to know Kelvin, in addition to being an athlete, as a very nice and modest person.”

Kiptum left a widow, Asenath Cheruto, and two children.

“My son belonged to the world and he has been taken away from me in a painful way. Since his birth, he was hardworking and he took after his mother who was an athlete we are glad that he later became a world-beater. He was my only son,” said Kiptum’s father, Samson Cheruiyot, at his home in Chepsamo village, Chepkorio, Elgeyo Marakwet County, on Monday.

“I expected my son to uplift our status but he has been snatched away from me, but I want to thank God for the days we lived with him. I have lost a treasure.”

Kiptum was cruising firmly on the highway to celebrity status.

He was already a superstar, his marathon world record run in Chicago last October catapulting him to near cult status in the running world.

Naturally, endorsements would flow in freely, and his Brussels-based management company—Golazo—was inundated with corporate offers.

On February 1, Kiptum signed a contract with Amazfit, a high-end Chinese sports watch whose manufacturers also penned a deal with organisers of the April 14 Rotterdam Marathon as official timing partner.

“Crafted for champions, this premium running watch brings you cutting-edge heart rate monitoring, pinpoint GPS accuracy, powerful 14-day battery life, and personalised AI-generated marathon training plans,” Amazfit said during the February 1 launch, trumpeting Kiptum as the appropriate ambassador for their technology.

Read: Kiptum: The celeb Kenya missed

“Training is just half of what makes a champion—to level up his mental and physical recovery, Kelvin will also have the Amazfit Helio on hand. Coming in Spring 2024, this high-tech smart ring is a game-changer for athletes looking to dial in on every factor that can help them recover better - and in turn, perform better,” the Chinese manufacturer noted, touting Kiptum as the “next big thing” after his world record run of two hours and 35 seconds at last October’s Chicago Marathon.

“When he achieved that record-breaking finishing time of 2:00:35 in Chicago in 2023, the Kenyan trailblazer forever wrote his name in the history books,” Amazfit noted.

“At only 24 years old, and with only three professional marathon races under his belt - including Valencia 2022 and London 2023 - Kelvin Kiptum has taken the running world by storm.

“And now, Amazfit will be right there with him through every pace, as Kiptum sets his sights on Rotterdam in April - where he aims to break the two-hour mark - before going for gold at this year’s Olympics in Paris.”

Acknowledging his new role as an Amazfit athlete, Kiptum noted that the new timing partnership would be essential in his attempt to run the marathon in under two hours at the April 14 Rotterdam Marathon.

"Teaming up with Amazfit for this groundbreaking journey is truly exciting," he said in his launch statement.

"The Amazfit Cheetah Pro has become an integral part of my training regimen. As I aim to break the two-hour mark in Rotterdam and pursue gold at the Paris Olympics, I am confident that Amazfit will be my ultimate ally in pushing the limits of human potential. Together, we are set to redefine what's possible."

Financial details of the deal haven't been disclosed yet, and neither has his appearance fees and other endorsements for the Rotterdam Marathon.

Kiptum was also a Nike-sponsored athlete.

When breaking the world marathon record in Chicago last October, Kiptum ran in Nike Dev 163 prototype shoes, a version of the commercial Nike Alphafly 3, which was launched in January by the American sports goods manufacturer.

Nike described the show as "the fastest marathon shoe in the world… tested and proven by the fastest runners in the world."

In running 2:00:35, Kiptum became the first athlete to break 2:01 in a record-eligible marathon.

He won the race by almost three and a half minutes and took 34 seconds off double Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge's previous world record.

By the time of his death, Kiptum held three of the seven fastest times in history to his name, having also won the TCS London Marathon in April in 2:01:25 and was voted among the World Athletes of the Year for 2023 by World Athletics.

Naturally, he was destined to sign up more lucrative contacts.

As part of his strategic partnerships, like Kipchoge, Kiptum had also signed up with Maurten, a carbohydrate-rich sports drink popular with endurance athletes.

President William Ruto and opposition Azimio coalition leader Raila Odinga led Kenyans in mourning the marathon star.

Read: PREMIUM The rise and rise of Kelvin Kiptum

"He was only 24 yet, as a hero, triumphed in Valencia, Chicago, London and other top competitions. His mental strength and discipline were unmatched. Kiptum was our future," said President Ruto.

"An extraordinary sportsman has left an extraordinary mark on the globe. Our thoughts are with the family and the sporting fraternity. Rest In Peace."

Odinga posted on 'X': "Devastating news as we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual, Kelvin Kiptum, World Record holder and Kenyan athletics icon… My deepest condolences to his loved ones, friends and the entire athletics fraternity. Our nation grieves the profound loss of a true hero."

In his message, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, a British Olympic legend and multiple middle-distance world record holder himself, said Kiptum would leave an "incredible legacy."

"We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana. On behalf of all World Athletics we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, teammates and the Kenyan nation," Cope posted.

"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."

On January 14 this year, Kiptum unveiled his "number one" bib number for the April 14 Rotterdam marathon on his socials.

"Only three months to go and I'll be wearing this bib number again in the streets of Rotterdam," he wrote.

"Currently, my days consist of eating, sleep, training and repeat. My preparation is my main focus at the moment. I want to be the best version of myself when I start in Rotterdam."

Sadly, he never lived to see the streets of Rotterdam again as he breathed his last on the Ravine-Eldoret road after Sunday night's tragic road accident.

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