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Tearful tributes for Kenyan marathon prodigy Kiptum

By Ailéen KIMUTAI
Kenya Kelvin Kiptum broke the marathon record in October.  By LUIS TATO AFP
FEB 22, 2024 LISTEN
Kelvin Kiptum broke the marathon record in October. By LUIS TATO (AFP)

Hundreds of grieving people paid an emotional tribute on Thursday to marathon prodigy Kelvin Kiptum, who died in a car crash earlier this month.

His coffin, encircled with flowers, was carried in a hearse through Kenya's long-distance running hub of Eldoret, some watching in silence, others singing hymns.

Kiptum's mother Mary Kangongo and his wife Asenath Rotich were inconsolable at the mortuary as the wooden coffin was loaded into the black hearse.

Kiptum was killed on February 11 in a road accident near Eldoret at the age of 24, just a few months after he smashed the world marathon record.

Kiptum will be laid to rest on Friday.  By LUIS TATO AFP Kiptum will be laid to rest on Friday. By LUIS TATO (AFP)

"It is difficult to accept this happened," Athletics Kenya executive committee member Barnaba Korir said.

"It is a big void in Kenyan athletics."

A married father of two, Kiptum was to be laid to rest on Friday in Naiberi, near Eldoret, where the government is building a new home for the family.

World Athletics head Sebastian Coe and Kenyan President William Ruto were to be among those attending the funeral.

'His death hit everyone hard'

Kiptum's mother Mary Kangongo foreground centre and his wife Asenath Rotich second right were inconsolable.  By LUIS TATO AFP Kiptum's mother Mary Kangongo (foreground centre) and his wife Asenath Rotich (second right) were inconsolable. By LUIS TATO (AFP)

The procession snaked its way through roads lined with fans and athletes as it headed towards Iten, the legendary high-altitude training region, where mourners viewed Kiptum's body in a half-open casket.

"We have to accept that Kiptum is no longer with us," cleric Philip Chumo said ahead of the procession.

"He is here in spirit."

Local sports official Purity Koima said Kiptum was loved by everyone.

"We lost so many athletes here in Iten but Kiptum's death has hit everyone hard," she said.

Shoe-shiner Paul Ouma, who followed the procession on foot for more than two kilometres (over one mile), said Kiptum's death "is very painful".

"We were expecting a lot from him," Ouma told AFP.

In Iten, dozens of mourners signed a book of condolence.

'You inspired us all'

Police said Kiptum was driving near Eldoret around 11:00 pm (2000 GMT) when his car veered off the road into a ditch and hit a tree.

His Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana, 36, also died in the accident while another passenger, a woman, was injured.

"We found that the late Kelvin had severe head injuries and there were severe fractures which were mainly at the base of the skull," chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor said on Wednesday after an autopsy.

Toxicology tests were still under way, he added.

Hakizimana was laid to rest in Rwanda on Wednesday, a day after a vigil was held at his family home.

Kiptum burst onto the marathon scene in 2022 and shattered the world record in Chicago in October last year.

He ran the distance in two hours 35 seconds, slicing 34 seconds off the previous fastest time, set by his Kenyan rival, the marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge.

After flying through the course, the then 23-year-old waved and blew kisses at spectators before crossing the finish line.

"A world record was not in my mind today," he said afterwards. "I knew one day one time I'd be a world-record holder."

The young athlete had competed in only three marathons recording three of the all-time fastest seven times for the event.

He was favourite to take gold at this year's Paris Olympics, where he was expected to go head-to-head with Kipchoge for the first time.

Known for maintaining a gruelling training schedule that sometimes topped 300 kilometres (190 miles) a week, Kiptum had only recently announced he was hoping to smash the mythic two-hour mark in Rotterdam in April.

"Kelvin, you achieved greatness and inspired us all," Coe said in a tribute on X last week.

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