/ 17 February 2024

Kenyan MPs honour Kiptum amid calls to better protect athletes

2023 Chicago Marathon
Feat: Kelvin Kiptum’s two-hour, 35-second run in the 2023 Chicago marathon set a new world record. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Kenyan MPs observed a minute’s silence on Tuesday in honour of marathon star Kelvin Kiptum after his death in a late-night car crash, and appealed for better protection for the country’s sporting talent.

Kiptum, who smashed the world marathon record last year, was killed along with his Rwandan coach in the accident near his home in the Eldoret area of Kenya’s Rift Valley on Sunday.

The athlete’s death is the latest in a series of tragedies to hit Kenyan sports stars.

His death at the age of just 24 shocked his homeland and the world of athletics, with his compatriot, marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge, leading tributes to the “rising star”.

In Nairobi, MPs bowed their heads for a minute of silence for the man who rose from humble beginnings as a goat herder to record three of the seven fastest marathon times in history.

He was a favourite for marathon gold at the Paris Olympics later this year, where he was due to face off against Kipchoge for the first time after slashing 34 seconds off his rival’s world record in Chicago in October.

“At the young age of 24 years, Mr Kiptum had achieved what many athletes could only dream of,” said Ng’elechei Caroline Jeptoo, MP for Elgeyo Marakwet County, where the accident occurred.

“He was a beacon of hope not only to people of his village but also to the many in the country and beyond.”

Several MPs called for a full investigation into the crash and for better protection of the nation’s athletes. The police said Kiptum was driving from Kaptagat to Eldoret at about 11pm on Sunday when the accident occurred.

A police report said the father of two had lost control of the car and veered into a ditch before hitting a tree. Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana, were killed on the spot while a woman passenger was injured.

Local police official Abdullahi Dahir told the Citizen TV broadcaster on Tuesday that the police would record witness statements as part of an inquiry into the accident.

“As we mourn, some actions must be taken by the ministry of sports… they must take our athletes seriously,” said Kiptum’s local MP, Gideon Kimaiyo. “Some of the athletes are young with promising careers but they are left on their own.”

His call was echoed by opposition MP Phelix Odiwuor, who said: “There should be a thorough investigation into what caused the accident. Our athletes should be treated as VIPs and be given security.”

In 2011, Kenyan marathon great Samuel Wanjiru died also at the age of 24 in a mysterious incident at his home after taking the title at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In 2021, long-distance running star Agnes Tirop was found stabbed to death at the age of 25 at her house in Iten, near Eldoret. Her husband, Ibrahim Rotich, went on trial for her murder in November last year.

Athletics Kenya (AK) officials met Kiptum’s family on Tuesday to start making preparations for his burial, said AK executive committee member Barnabas Korir.

Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba said Monday the government would take charge of all funeral arrangements, in consultation with the family, although no date has yet been set.

“He was a jovial, loving man who loved his family, more so, his children,” Kiptum’s wife, Asaneth, told reporters as mourners gathered at the family home on Monday.

Kiptum’s comrades could not hide their emotions at a training session in the high-altitude training hub of Eldoret on Tuesday, vowing to uphold his legacy.

Rosemary Wanjiru, winner of the Tokyo marathon last year, said she was determined to “improve my time, personal best and also to defend my title”.

“We will honour him in the races we are going to compete in by being among the top and retaining the medals,” added long-distance runner Antonina Kwambai.

World 10  000m silver medallist Daniel Simiu Ebenyo said the government should give Kiptum a state funeral.

“He is just a very special person in Kenya.” — AFP