Kelvin Kiptum, marathon world record-holder who aimed to go below two hours – obituary

Kelvin Kiptum after breaking the world marathon record in Chicago last October
Kelvin Kiptum after breaking the world marathon record in Chicago last October - Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Kelvin Kiptum, who has died in a car crash in Kenya aged 24, won the London Marathon in April 2023 in a remarkable time of 2hr 1min 25sec, 16 seconds outside Eliud Kipochoge’s world record; six months later he broke Kipochoge’s record by winning the Chicago Marathon in 2:00:35, blowing kisses at the spectators as he crossed the finishing line.

Kiptum, a shy and softly spoken figure, arrived in Britain 10 months ago having run the fastest marathon debut on record, in December 2022 ,when he stormed to victory in the Valencia Marathon in 2:01:53. He made a relatively cautious start in London, but after 18½ miles broke clear to run the second part in less than an hour on what was supposed to be the slower half of the course. The closest man, Geoffrey Kamworor, was almost three minutes behind him.

Collapsing to the ground in The Mall as he crossed the line, Kiptum declared himself delighted. “The course felt good, there was a bit of rain around halfway but it was OK,” he told Associated Press. “I enjoy doing the marathons… I loved it, I am very happy.”

Kelvin Kiptum was born in the Keiyo district of western Kenya, within the Rift Valley, on December 2 1999, the son of a peasant farmer. He grew up surrounded by some of Kenya’s greatest runners, watching their successes on television. He walked barefoot to primary school, but his family were unable to afford his secondary education. Later, he trained as an electrician at Chepkorio Vocational Training Centre.

Kiptum started running while herding the family’s goats and sheep, competing with his peers along forest trails. He also joined a village running group, later describing how the runners encouraged each other during their gruelling training in the high-altitude region.

By the age of 13 he was taking part in races, finishing 10th in the 2013 Family Bank half marathon in the city of Eldoret. Despite not having a coach, he won the 2018 Family Bank half marathon, and a year later won the Kass half marathon.

He made his international debut in March 2019, coming fifth in the Lisbon half marathon in Portugal. Three years later came his surprise victory in the Valencia Marathon, when he became only the third man to complete the distance in under two hours and two minutes, after Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele.

After the London Marathon there was some debate about Kiptum’s “super shoes”, Nike’s latest carbon-plated trainers, amid concerns that the rapid change in technology is devaluing records. Two weeks earlier the women’s marathon record had been broken by the Ethiopian runner Tigst Assefa wearing a new Adidas shoe. World Athletics, the sport’s governing body, declared them both legal.

Kiptum crosses the line to win the 2023 London Marathon
Kiptum crosses the line to win the 2023 London Marathon - Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Kiptum declined to be part of the Kenya team at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest in August 2023, instead setting his sights on Chicago two months later. But two weeks before the marathon he went down with tonsillitis and had to be persuaded to take part.

Recently he described his hopes of completing the Rotterdam Marathon in April in under two hours. “I would like to grow further, and so, inevitably, break the barrier,” he said in December. He was also expected at this summer’s Paris Olympics, when he would probably have been pitted against Kipchoge, who broke the two-hour barrier in an unrecognised marathon in Vienna in 2019.

Kiptum and his Rwandan coach and mentor, Gervais Hakizimana, 37, were killed when their car veered off the road and hit a tree between Eldoret and Kaptagat, two of the main bases for Kenyan endurance runners. A female passenger was seriously injured.

Kelvin Kiptum is survived by his wife, Asenath Rotich, and by their two children.

Kelvin Kiptum, born December 2 1999, died February 11 2024