Kelvin Kiptum funeral: Thousands mourn Kenya’s marathon star destined for greatness

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Image caption: Kiptum’s widow Asenath Rotich, in the pink jacket, gathered with her family by her husband’s coffin

Trying to hold back the tears, Kelvin Kiptum’s widow, Asenath Rotich, led the mourners at the funeral for the young Kenyan marathon world record holder.

She broke down when revealing that the couple had been planning a big wedding celebration in April.

Kiptum was just 24 when he died in a car accident nearly a fortnight ago.

He had stunned the world in his short marathon career and figures from sport and politics came to pay tribute to a man whose life had promised so much.

Kenya’s President William Ruto was there as well as Sebastian Coe, who heads athletics’ world governing body.

The funeral ceremony was held at the showground in the village of Chepkorio, where Kiptum trained in western Kenya.

His widow said she and Kiptum, who had a traditional marriage in 2017, had planned to hold a “colourful wedding ceremony” in April.

Her presence reminded everyone that the modest, softly-spoken star had also left his wife, two children and parents bereft.

“I mourn my love,” she said, “I’ve cried until no more. I’ll miss you and you’re the love of my life forever. Until we meet again.”

Image caption: Mourners queued up to view the body before the funeral service

Kenya is home to some of the world’s best runners and many came to pay their respects.

Amos Kipruto, the 2022 London Marathon champion, was a pallbearer at the service.

“The hands are not strong enough,” he told the BBC.

“My heart is heavy it is painful, and I still feel it’s a movie… We are all rivals in races but in friendship, we are together.”

Multiple world record holder Faith Kipyegon described Kiptum as “unique” and wondered what could have been, saying that this was the year that the young long-distance runner was going to break the two-hour barrier in the marathon.

“Since he arrived… he has re-written history,” veteran athlete Paul Tergat told the BBC. “He has a legacy that we’ve never seen in this world. We are here… to celebrate what he has achieved in a very short time.”

Image caption: Athletes accompanied the coffin as it entered the grounds for the funeral service

Kiptum only ran his first marathon in December 2022 recording the fastest debut time over the distance. He then broke the London course record last year and smashed the world record, held by Kenyan great Eliud Kipchoge, in October 2023.

Overall, he ran three of the fastest seven marathons of all time in less than a year.

Reflecting on this record Lord Coe said Kiptum had reached “the highest peaks of achievement”.

But he was also a local hero who was said to have done a lot for people in his home area.

“I feel pain and shock,” local resident Susan Jerotich said.

“He would have been a great support to the community and family. He was our light. He’s motivated many.

“We used to say to our children: ‘Be like Kiptum.”

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