Kiptum's burial unites the world as fast rise conspires with destiny

When members of the public were allowed to view the body of the late Kelvin Kiptum at Iten grounds in Elgeyo Marakwet. [Christopher Chesang, Standard]

Like much else in life, athletics, too, has two sides to it. Often, the athletes’ form differs from the tale told by the hare during a fireside chat.

Each dwells on triumph and none talks of defeat. Each has versions of great courage and none talks of fear. Each talks of happily-ever-after; none talks of death.

But all these come into play in the tragic story of fallen athlete Kelvin Kiptum, the world marathon record holder. It’s a sad tale. This is how precisely great success can conspire with death.

Kiptum is a surname in Kalenjin meaning one born ‘during a ceremony’. And, today, the global athletics stage is holding a grand ceremony for the fallen legend who proved his mettle locally and before the global stage. Sad and too sad! It is a burial but a global funeral.

President William Ruto leads a host of sports dignitaries at his home in Chepsamo village who, among others include representatives from World Athletics in Monaco, Golazo Sports Management in Belgium who managed Kiptum, Cabinet Sports Secretary Ababu Namwamba and Athletics Kenya top brass.

Kiptum’s meteoric rise to global fame extends far beyond his prominence to its zenith at the 2023 Chicago Marathon, where he erased Eliud Kipchoge’s world marathon mark by 41 seconds.

That’s no surprise. Like any other talented sports star, he made an indelible mark globally, quite unimaginable.

When Kelvin Kiptum lunged to the finish line as he won the men's elite race at the 2023 London Marathon in London. [Xinhua]

Kiptum seemed to borrow wise counsel from Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of US, who once said: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

On December, 24, he met this writer during a ceremony when boys were graduating from the Keiyo initiation ceremony at his his uncle’s home in Kipchawat village in Elgeyo Marakwet County. He said: “Arap Komen, take it to the bank. I can do something special for Kenya and the entire world. I believe in myself. Sport is all about personal trust. Wait and see.”

He told the boy initiates that conquering the world needs courage and determination. “You, guys have been taught everything appertaining manhood. You have what it takes. You are bakule (those circumcised and initiated together in Keiyo). I never went beyond secondary school education but I still want to make a difference in this world. Soldier on! Kibaree kimukoon (Go, conquer the world).

In my last interview with World Athletics President Lord Sebastian Coe in December, he said he expected Kiptum to lower the all-time mark at the Rotterdam Marathon on April 14.

Two-hour barrier

“Rotterdam is a very fast course historically and Kiptum can dip under the two-hour barrier.”

Kiptum, who stunned the world with his record-breaking marathon in Chicago last October, had already set his sights on a new challenge. Despite holding the world record for the fastest marathon time of two hours and 35 seconds, Kiptum looked determined to break the elusive sub-two barrier in 2024.

The Rotterdam Marathon is known for its fast course, having witnessed three world records being set in 1985, 1988, and 1998.

He finished his maiden American race in historic fashion, not only winning the 2023 race in a world record but also beating defending champion Benson Kipruto. Kiptum did not only beat the Chicago course record set by former world marathon record holder Dennis Kimetto (2:03.45) but also the world record of 2:01:09 set by Kipchoge.

Kiptum, who comes from Chepsamo village in Keiyo South shocked the athletics world by clocking 2:00:35.

A woman carries an image of the late marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum at Iten grounds in Elgeyo Marakwet. [Christopher Chesang, Standard]

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. 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 Chepsamo Primary in Keiyo South, his father Samson Cheruiyot compelled him to proceed to secondary school. Kiptum requested that he discontinues schooling to take up athletics.

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 instead picked up sports, ready to electrify world athletics. And not so long, he did the unthinkable: broke Kipchoge’s world marathon record of 2:01:09 as he set a new mark of 2:00:35 at the Chicago Marathon last year.

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