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Athletics-Marathon world record holder Kiptum dies in road accident

By Thomas Mukoya and Humphrey Malalo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach were killed in a traffic accident in the Rift Valley on Sunday, cutting short the career of the only man to have run the endurance classic in less than two hours and one minute.

The 24-year-old set the world record at the Chicago Marathon in October with a time of two hours and 35 seconds to surpass the mark of 2:01:09 run by compatriot Eliud Kipchoge in Berlin in 2022.

Kiptum, who clocked three of the seven fastest marathon times in history, had been hoping to become the first man to run the marathon in under two hours in race conditions at Rotterdam in April as well as make his Olympic debut in Paris in July.

"We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana," World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said in a statement.

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

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

According to the police report, Kiptum was driving his Rwandan coach and a woman in a car near the Rift Valley village where he was born when the accident occurred.

The athlete lost control of the vehicle and veered off the road into a ditch, travelling for about 60 metres along it before crashing into a large tree.

Kiptum and Hakizimana died at the scene but the woman, 24-year-old Sharon Chepkurui Kosgei Keiyo, survived with serious injuries and was treated at a local hospital.

Tributes poured in from senior Kenyan politicians and fellow athletes.

"His mental strength and discipline were unmatched. Kiptum was our future," Kenya's President William Ruto said on social media platform X.

Kipchoge, who had been expected to race Kiptum at the Paris Olympics, said he was "deeply saddened" by the death of "rising star" Kiptum.

Writing on X, the 39-year-old said Kiptum was an "athlete who had a whole life ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness".

EXPLOSIVE ENTRY

Kiptum, a product of the high altitude region of Kenya which has produced most of the country's world renowned distance runners, started his international career on the half-marathon circuit in 2019.

He made an explosive entry into the full 42.195km distance by running the then fourth fastest time on record (2.01.53) to win the 2022 Valencia Marathon on debut.

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 used the same tactics to win last April's London Marathon in a course record of 2:01:25 and again in Chicago in October to take 34 seconds off Kipchoge's world mark.

That was to be his final race before his untimely death, which came only a week after World Athletics had ratified his world record.

Hakizimana, 36, was a former distance runner who still holds Rwanda's record for the 3,000 metres steeplechase. He first met Kiptum when he was training in the Rift Valley and worked with him intensively before last year's London marathon.

"I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn the passing of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana," Kenya's twice Olympic champion and 800m world record holder David Rudisha said on X.

"This is a huge loss."

(Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Angelica Medina in Mexico City and Urvi Dugar in Bengaluru; writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Clare Fallon, Michael Perry and Peter Rutherford)