Village artisan sensation who broke Kipchoge's marathon record

World men's marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum. [Chicago Marathon]

The newly crowned world marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum has inked his name in the annals of history as one of the greatest sportsmen.

But his is a story of meteoric rise from obscurity to global fame. His rise to stardom - without taking part in local competitions like school games as is always the tradition - has wowed the sporting world.

His athletics career is another archetypal case of rags to riches and far beyond. He endured day-to-day challenges in life, doing menial jobs while training in athletics.

It's like he chose to live by the words of an American author, Aaron Lauritsen, who once said: "Life's trials will test you, shape you, but don't let them change who you are."

His script defies the perfect definition of your typical Kenyan athlete. When Kiptum completed Standard Eight at the Chepsamo Primary School in Keiyo South, his father Samson Cheruiyot compelled him to proceed to secondary school. Kiptum requested that he discontinues schooling to take up athletics.

That was when the two differed.

Electrifying the world

After interventions from their nuclear family members and church elders, Kiptum pleaded that he joins a local youth polytechnic to study electrical wiring grade one.

After completing the course, he never practiced the trade and instead picked up sports, ready to electrify athletics.

And not so long, he did the unthinkable: broke Eliud Kipchoge's world marathon record of 2:01:09 as he set a new mark of 2:00:35 at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.

"I worked hard for good results. Life was not that easy. I prayed to God to guide me," Kiptum said on Tuesday after he arrived from Chicago.

Kiptum shot to the global limelight when he won the Valencia Marathon in an impressive 2:01:51, the sixth fastest time in history, in December. He then beat Kipchoge to sixth place, winning the London Marathon in April.

He now wants to prove his mettle by competing with Kipchoge, probably at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

"It will be exciting to compete against Kipchoge once again. He has inspired many athletes. I am ready to battle him. It has always been my dream to break the world record. I long to make the team for the Olympic Games next year," said Kiptum.

This week, the social media has been awash with criticism that Kipchoge did not congratulate Kiptum, but some sports enthusiasts including Kiptum, played down the argement.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba said "it's an optional decision to send a message of congratulations".

Kiptum said he has not been in contact with Kipchoge since breaking his world record. "I have not spoken to him and I am not sure if he has talked about the Chicago Marathon," he said.

Radio repairer

Cheruiyot said his son takes his advice well. "I told him not to take alcohol and he has obeyed it. I have been praying for this boy for many years.

"I never knew that by failing to attain secondary education he could make it in life. While a primary schoolboy, he loved fixing faults in radios in the village. Unfortunately, he never repaired a radio after completing the wiring course due his love for athletics," he said.

Wilson Kiplagat, Kiptum's uncle, said he spoke to his nephew for two hours before he lined up in the race. "He sounded nervous. I asked him to run 1:58. He laughed and went off," he said.

Barnaba Korir, the Athletics Kenya executive member, lauded Kiptum's father for considering his wishes on athletics.

"Mr Cheruiyot has taught us (parents) that we need to assess our children's capabilities keenly and support their talents," he said.

Mr Bob Verbeeck, the CEO of Golazo Sports Management, the company that manages Kiptum, said it was encouraging that the 23-year-old set a world record after competing in just three marathons.

After training for four years, Kiptum signed up with the company in 2019.

"He shattered three marathons (Valencia, London and Chicago). That's a good achievement. He can now prepare and do 1:58. He can make it," said Verbeeck.

The world beater is under a Rwandan coach Gervais Hakizimana.

Not bad for a humble man who grew up in Chepsamo village in Elgeyo Marakwet but borrowed the "impossible is possible" line from American author John Mason.

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 does part of his training in the same forest at the moment.

Kiptum added to the list of Kenyan men's world marathon record breakers from Keiyo South. They include Wilson Kipsang (from Muskut village near the defunct Fluorspar Company) and Dennis Kimetto (from Kapkitony village). The two broke world records in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Kiptum is an uncle to Geoffrey Kamworor, a track, road and cross-country star who broke the world half marathon record in 2019. The record was later lowered by Kibiwott Kandie and is currently held by Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda.

Rise to stardom

It was until 2018 when Kipchoge, who comes from Nandi County, broke the world record and then lowered it again last year in Berlin.

Kiptum's rise to marathon stardom is full of surprises. In 2018, he had a fair share of fame after winning the Family Bank Eldoret Half Marathon. By then, he was just a teenager and without a coach.

At the contest, Kiptum appeared a rookie who showed no respect for the top guns that included miler Mathew Kisorio.

A year later, Kiptum pulled another surprise when he outshone a rich field to win the half marathon race during the 2019 edition of Kass Marathon.

He blew away former Tilburg 10 miles runner-up Noah Kipkemboi and reigning Munster Marathon champion Charles Yosei.

Kiptum is married to Asenath Rotich and they have two children.

About Kelvin Kiptum

Born: December 2, 1999

Valencia Marathon: 2:01.53

London Marathon: 2:01.25

Chicago Marathon: 2:00.35 (world record)

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