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Family's dreams crushed in road crash that took life of a world champion

Rift Valley
 Elgeyo Marakwet resident carrying an image of the late World Marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum at Iten grounds on February 22, 2024. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Moments after he died in a car crash near Flax Junction along the Eldoret-Eldama Ravine Road, his father, Samson Cheruiyot, was inconsolable.

His only child was no gone for good.

When Kelvin Kiptum won the Valencia Marathon in December 2022, people knew he would elevate his parents’ status.

Cheruiyot and his wife Mary Kangogo are in deep pain.

On his shoulders, Kiptum carried the lofty dreams and aspirations of his parents, and his wife and children.

But the 11pm accident on that Sunday night of February 11, according to Cheruiyot, crushed the high hopes he had for him.

At the morgue, just about an hour after the tragic accident that also killed Kiptum’s coach, Gervais Hakizimana, the late athlete’s father cried uncontrollably.

“God, why did you have to take away my son? If he had done anything wrong, you (God) would have taken me instead. Kiptum was my only hope. Why did this have to happen,” a devastated Cheruiyot said.

Like Kiptum’s widow Asenette, Cheruiyot and his wife Mary are still struggling to come to terms as the world bids farewell to a record holder. An athletic hero who died as his talent in the sport started to shine.

Mary has been overwhelmed since the death of her son and has never spoken.

Yesterday, when Kiptum’s body was being moved out of the Eldoret Hospital mortuary in Uasin Gishu County, Cheruiyot sat on the co-driver seat, holding his four-year-old grandson Kigen Kiptum tightly as the convoy escorting him snaked to Iten and later to Chepkorio and then to Kapkenda Girls and the athlete’s home for a night vigil awaiting today’s send-off.

Last week, Cheruiyot revealed the gigantic hopes he had for his son.

From a new house for the parents and one for his young family to making Kenya proud by shattering his World Record and running under two hours in the classic marathon distance, the athlete had big dreams.

“I had hopes in Kiptum. He was a respectful young man, and I trusted him. He fulfilled all his promises he made to me, including breaking the World Record last October,” Cheruiyot said.

Cheruiyot was so emotional that he wants the tragic accident that cost the life of his son investigated.

“He was not just my son. The whole world looked up to him after breaking the World Record,” the overwhelmed father said.

When he chose not to proceed to Secondary School after completing primary education at Chepsamo Primary School in his village and decided to pursue athletics, Cheruiyot said he gladly allowed him to plunge into sports.

The father went on to say: “Kiptum was my only son because his mother (Mary) had birth complications, and doctors recommended that she does not conceive again, and I respected that.”

In an interview with an American media house, Kiptum said his father allowed him to pursue athletics after (at times) sneaking out of school to join athletes in training.

Cheruiyot says when he saw him training on his own, he knew his resilient only child was headed for greatness.

He started running while at Kipchawat Primary School in Keiyo North Constituency, where he lived with his uncle. He later relocated to his paternal home and studied at Chepsamo Primary School in Keiyo South.

No one expected him to set a world record in Chicago, the pancake course with 31 turns.

At 23, Kiptum had the world at his feet thanks to his historic run at the 45th Chicago Marathon on October 8, 2023, where he set a new record of 2:00.35 –shaving 34 seconds off Eliud Kipchoge’s world record of 2:01.09. He died only five days after his world record was ratified.

He had in December last year been named the men’s World Athlete of the Year outside track category by World Athletics.

In all his endeavours, Kiptum seemed to have considered Briton author Charles Caleb Colton’s words: “The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is the one elicited from the darkest storm.”

Not bad for a humble man who grew up in Chepsamo village in Keiyo South, Elgeyo Marakwet County.

Born of a peasant farmer near Kaptagat Forest, Kiptum realised his long-distance running talent while herding their family’s cattle in the forest. He could compete with his peers along the forest trails. Interestingly, he did part of his training in the same forest.

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