Accidents that have shaken up athletics family in Kenya

Kelvin Kiptum

The vehicle which World Marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum (inset), his Rwandese coach Garvais Hakizimana and another occupant were traveling in before they were involved in a fatal road crash on the Eldoret-Eldama Ravine road on February 11, 2024.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya and Reuters

What you need to know:

  • Kiptum, positioned to break the two-hour barrier at the upcoming Rotterdam Marathon, was driving a Toyota Premio with passengers Garvis and Sharon Kosgey late on Sunday when the accident occurred.
  • The vehicle, badly damaged, veered off the road, hit a tree, and landed in a ditch about 60 meters away.

Just like biblical Moses, Kelvin Kiptum will not reach the Promised Land.

Kiptum, 24, brought the world to the edge when he set a new marathon world record of two hours and 35 seconds on October 8, last year in Chicago.

Kiptum became the first man in history to run a marathon under two hours and one minute, beating Olympic marathon Eliud Kipchoge’s time of 2:01:09 set in 2022 Berlin.

Then a month after his exploits, Kiptum would declare his intentions to run a sub-two hours at the NN Rotterdam Marathon set for April 14 in the Netherlands City.

Kiptum, who made his first appearance at the 2019 Rotterdam Marathon as a pacesetter, said he was keen on returning to the course and running a fast time.

“I want to return here to run fast...This flat course lends itself to fast times and the enthusiastic masses of people along the road push us forward," he said.

The rising marathon start added he would like to be part of the rich history of the Rotterdam race. Kiptum didn’t mince his words on his expectations in Rotterdam.

“I will try at least to beat my world record here. I know I’m capable of doing that, if my preparation works out well and the conditions are ok,” said Kiptum during the official launch of the race in Rotterdam Rotterdam on November 8.

“And in that case, I will get close to the sub-2 barrier, so why not aim to break it? That might look ambitious, but I’m not afraid of setting these kinds of goals. There’s no limit to human energy,” he further said. But it was not to be.

Kiptum will now not live to take distance running to the Promised Land of Sub two hours after an accident in Kaptagat cut short his life together with that of his long-time coach Gervais Hakizimana.

Just like Kiptum, accidents, some mysterious, have ended the lives of young and promising Kenyan athletes, who had taken the world of athletics by storm as they rewrote the history books at their tender age.

However, some of them survived the road accidents to tell their tale.

The previous prominent deaths were those of 2008 Olympic Games marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru, Nicholas Bett, the 2015 world 400m hurdles champion, and the 2017 world 10,000m bronze medallist Agnes Jebet Tirop.

Wanjiru, 24, who had set his sights on defending his Olympic marathon title at the 2012 London Summer Games and breaking the marathon world record, died from an alleged fall off a balcony at his home in Nyahururu on May 15, 2011.

The death occurred just a few months before Patrick Makau became the other Kenyan to break a world record after Paul Tergat when he won the Berlin Marathon in 2:03:38 on September 25, 2011.

Curiously, like Kiptum, Wanjiru had won the 2010 Chicago Marathon and was preparing for greater things to come.

Bett, 28, died in a road accident near the town of Lessos, in Nandi County, in the early morning hours of August 8, 2018.

Bett had arrived from the 2018 African Athletics Championships in Nigeria two days earlier and was driving from Kapsabet to Eldoret on his way back to Nairobi.

Tirop, 25, had set the 10km world record of 30:01 on September 12, 2021, before she was found dead on October 13, the same year. Her husband Emmanuel Rotich was arrested and charged with murder. The case is ongoing.

Several Kenyan athletes have been luckier on the killer roads of Kenya. Former marathon world record holders Paul Tergat, Wilson Kipsang, and Eliud Kipchoge all survived nasty accidents on the roads.

Tergat described his survival after a road accident near the city of Eldoret on December 9, 2010, as “a miracle”.

The five-time world cross country champion and twice Olympic 10,000 meters silver medallist sustained minor injuries despite the side he was sitting on being turned into a wreck.

Kipchoge, walked out of a rear-end collision unhurt after a 4WD Dual-Cab rammed his car against a petrol tanker in Gilgil, Nakuru on December 9, 2016, two months after winning the 2016 Rio Olympic Marathon title.

Kipsang and three of his family members survived a road accident on January 1, this year in the Kolol area of Kerio Valley, Elgeyo Marakwet County.

The breaks of his Toyota Landcruiser failed, forcing him to employ lifesaving measures to avoid crashing into oncoming vehicles.

Kipsang survived another accident in January 2020 in Eldoret town where he sustained a head injury.

The 2015 world javelin champion Julius Yego also survived a road accident along Kapsoya road in Eldoret on October 24, 2016.

Kenyan world 800m record holder David Rudisha escaped with minor injuries when his SUV crashed into a bus in the Kegogi area, along the Keroka-Sotik road in 2019.

Former world and Olympic 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop survived a car accident in 2013, with minor bruises.
The incident occurred four kilometres from Kabarnet town.

In May 2023, the athletic community mourned the loss of Sammy Kosgei, a decorated athlete who broke the 25-kilometre world record with a time of 1:11:50 during the Big Berlin 25-kilometre race in 2010.

Kosgei was the victim of a hit-and-run accident along the Kapsabet-Lessos road in Nandi County.

Francis Kiplagat perished in February 2018 in a tragic road accident at Kikopey on the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway.

Kiplagat was on his way back to Eldoret from Nairobi to pick up his visa. The then 27-year-old had competed in several road races abroad.

On January 7, 2018, steeplechase specialist Kennedy Murithii lost his life in a road accident along the Nyeri-Nyahururu road.

He represented Kenya at the 2018 Africa Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria. Murithii succumbed to injuries.

Two-time Boston Marathon champion Moses Tanui also cheated death in 2010 when he walked away from the wreckage of his car after a head-on collision with a stationary truck along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway.

However, his friend David Lelei, former Africa Games 1,500m runner, who was driving the car, died on the spot.