Marathon World Record Dead at 24

On Sunday Feb. 11, 2024 around 11pm, Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana, passed away in a tragic car accident in Kaptagat, Kenya, a region known as a training haven for the world’s most renowned distance runners.. Kiptum was 24 years old. Kiptum, who was driving the car, veered off the road into a ditch and hit a large tree, killing himself and Hakizimana instantly.

Kiptum grew up in nearby Chepsamo, Kenya. He worked as a herder as a child and trained to become an electrician before pursuing a career in professional running. “I knew him when I was a little boy herding livestock barefoot,” Rwanadanese coach Hakizimana told BBC. “It was in 2009 when I was training near his father’s farm, he’d come kicking at my heels, and I would chase him away.”

Kiptum became a household name in the running community in October after obliterating the previous Marathon world record with his 2:00:35 run at the Chicago Marathon. That record was officially ratified by international track federation World Athletics. For more on the specifics on the record please refer to The Anchor’s digital article, “Kelvin Kiptum smashes marathon world record. 

In a statement on X, Kenyan President William Ruto said “He was only 24. Kiptum was our future. An extraordinary sportsman has left an extraordinary mark in the globe.” His death sparked many tributes across Kenya. 

Kiptum was set to compete at the 2024 Rotterdam Marathon in April. “I am going to Rotterdam to run fast,” Kiptum told reporters in December. “The course is good and the fans in the streets encourage you to run faster. I would like to be a part of the rich history of this marathon.” He was hoping to be the first person to organically break 2 hours in the marathon. He was also set to compete against the legendary Eluid Kipchoge in the Paris Olympic Marathon. Kipchoge held the previous world record and broke 2 on a heavily assisted course in 2019. 

Kipchoge joins an unfortunately long line of famous athletes whose lives were tragically taken from them before they could reach their full potential. Others like him include: 

Len Bias (1963-1986)

Len Bias was a 6’8” basketball player from Landover, Maryland who played college basketball at the University of Maryland. While there, Bias was a 2x All American, 2x ACC Player of the Year and ACC Athlete of the Year. He was drafted 2nd overall by the Boston Celtics in 1986. Two days after being drafted he sadly passed away of cardiac arrhythmia after snorting cocaine with some college friends. 

Roberto Clemente (1934-1972)

Roberto Clemente was a Puerto Rican Outfielder who played 18 years for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was a 15x All-Star, the 1966 MVP, 2x World Series Champion, 12x Gold Glove Winner, 4x Batting Champion and a member of the 3,000 hit club. This decorated resume earned Clemente a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. He was a known philanthropist and spent most of his offseason doing charity work. In 1972 the city of Managua, Nicaragua was hit with a massive earthquake. Clemente immediately arranged emergency relief efforts but tragically the plane of supplies he was on crashed into the Atlantic just off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico.

Ernie Davis (1939-1963)

Ernie Davis was a football player from New Salem, Pennsylvania. He excelled at baseball, basketball and football at Elmira Academy. He attended Syracuse University where he was a 2x All-American and led the Syracuse Orangemen to the National Championship in 1963. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1961, becoming the first African American to do so. He was drafted first overall in the 1962 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins. The Redskins owner refused to sign a black player so he was traded to the Cleveland Browns and paired with fellow Syracuse alumni and future Hall of Famer, Jim Brown. This dream duo took a tragic turn when Davis was diagnosed with leukemia. He was hospitalized in the summer of 1962 and died 9 months later. His no. 44 and 45 jerseys are retired by the Syracuse Orange and Cleveland Browns respectively.

Dale Earnhardt (1951-2001)

Dale Earnhardt Sr. was an American NASCAR driver for over 2 decades. He is tied with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson for the most NASCAR Cup Series Championships with 7, in 1980, 86, 87, 90, 91, 93 and 94. He has 76 wins and 428 top ten finishes in 676 races all time. In the NASCAR Xfinity Series he won 21 races with 75 top ten finishes in 136 races all time. He was famous for his No. 3 GM Goodwrench sponsored car. On February 18, 2001 Earnhardt was involved in a three-car crash with Ken Schrader and Sterling Marton during the final lap of the Daytona 500. Earnhardt passed away later that afternoon from a fatal basilar skull fracture. His son Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second place during that race.

Jose Fernandez (1992-2016)

Jose “Nino” Fernandez was a professional baseball pitcher from Santa Clara, Cuba. He was drafted 14th overall by the Miami Marlins in the 2011 draft and received Rookie of the Year and All-Star Honors in 2013. He was the youngest opening day pitcher in over 30 years when he started in 2014 at age 22. He was an All-Star again in 2016. On Sep. 25, 2016 he was found dead in a boating crash after hitting a rock in Miami Beach at 65 mph. The Coast Guard found him around 3 a.m., dead with cocaine and alcohol in his system.

Lou Gehrig (1903-1941)

Lou Gehrig was a Manhattan Native who played 1st Base for 17 years for the New York Yankees. He was a seven time All-Star, six time World Series Champion, two time MVP, Triple Crown winner, and American League Batting Champion. He once hit four home runs in one game, tied for the most ever. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939. He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) on his 36th birthday at the Mayo Clinic. He announced his retirement two days later and the Yankees honored him on July 4, 1939 when he gave the famous “luckiest man on the face of the Earth” speech. He passed away in his Bronx home on June 2, 1941. ALS still has no cure and the MLB actively fights to help fight the disease though the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Center.

Dwayne Haskins (1997-2022)

Dwayne Haskins was a native of Highland Park, NJ but grew up a diehard Ohio State Buckeyes fan. He attended the prestigious Bullis School where he passed for over 5,300 yards and 50 touchdown passes. The 6’4 Quarterback was a Heisman trophy finalist and went 13-1 during his senior season with 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. This was good enough to be drafted 15th overall by the Washington Redskins, now the Washington Commanders. He was 12-14 in two years there before being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. On April 9, 2022 he was struck and killed by a dump truck while crossing I-595 in Fort Lauderdale by foot. He had a BAC of .24 and had ketamine and norketamine in his system.

Paul McMullen (1972-2021)

A native of Cadillac, MI, Paul McMullen was a high school mile state champion and eight time All-American at Eastern Michigan University. Following graduation he ran professionally for seven years with Asics and Saucony before enlisting in the United State Coast Guard. He most recently ran under the four minute mile barrier at the age of 32, at the Prefontaine Classic. He retired from professional running after failing to qualify for the 2004 Olympics. He still holds the record for the 1.5 mile run in the Coast Guard and multiple records at Eastern Michigan. He founded the local track club Chariots of Fire and coached there until his untimely death in a ski accident in 2021.

Thurman Munson (1947-1979)

The Akron native, Thurman Munson was a professional catcher for eleven seasons for the New York Yankees. He earned the 1969 Rookie of the Year, 1976 MVP, three Gold Gloves, seven All Star games and two World Series Championships. He was also named captain of the New York Yankees, a prestigious honor only bestowed on sixteen Yankees ever. On Aug. 2, 1979 Munson was practicing takeoffs in his personal light aircraft and on his final landing, the flaps did not extend. He was trapped in the cockpit and unable to move due to a cervical fracture causing paralysis. Two nearby men attempted to free Munson by he died of asphyxiation due to inhalation of superheated air before they could free him.

Steve Prefontaine (1951-1975)

Coos Bay, Oregon native Steve Prefontaine is one of the greatest distance runners in American history. The 5 ‘9 phenom won two high school state championships before running for legendary Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon. While at Oregon he won the 1970, 71 and 73 Cross Country National Championships and four more in Track and Field in the three mile and 5000m distances. He earned fourth place in the 5000m at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He was also a strong advocate for athlete pay and was Nike’s first sponsored athlete. His life came to an unfortunate end in a single car drunk driving accident on May 30, 1975 when his car flipped onto itself traveling outside Eugene, OR. The 24-year-old had his eyes set on the 5,000m Gold Medal in the 1976 Montreal olympics. He died with many impressive personal bests including a 7:42 3000m, 8:18 2 mile, 13:21 5000m, and 27:43 10,000m, all American records at the time. 

Tyler Skaggs (1991-2019)

Tyler Skaggs was a three sport standout athlete at Santa Monica High School before being drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the first round of the 2009 MLB draft. Skaggs made his debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 22, 2012 and continued to have success before being traded back to the Angels. He finished his career. On July 1, 2019 Skaggs was found dead in his Southlake, TX hotel room. He had received painkillers from an Angles staff member and an autopsy revealed he had a mix of fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system and that he died of asphyxia from aspirating his own vomit. Suicide and foul play were ruled out and it was deemed and accidental death.

Sean Taylor (1937- 2007)

Sean Taylor was a Florida City Native who attended the nearby University of Miami. While there he was a two time all Big East, a Unanimous All-American, a National Champion and went all Big East in Track & Field. The Washington Redskins drafted him fifth overall and he became a two time Pro Bowler and All-Pro Safety. On the night of Nov. 18, 2007 Taylor’s house was broken into and he was shot in the leg while investigating noises downstairs. He was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital but unfortunately died of blood loss from a severed femoral artery the next day. He was posthumously named to the Washington Ring of Honor, had his number retired and has a statue outside the stadium 

Pat Tillman (1976-2004)

Pat Tillman was an All-American Safety at Arizona State University taken in the last round of the 1998 NFL Draft. He played three seasons for the Arizona Cardinals, totaling 340 tackles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. In May of 2002 he famously turned down a $6 million dollar contract to enlist in the U.S. Army with his brother following the 9/11 attacks. He graduated from Fort Benning Ranger School and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. On April 22, 2004 he was reported to have been killed by enemy combatants. After an investigation by the Department of Defense, it was confirmed that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. Tillman was often very critical of the military’s occupation of Iraq and his family has been incredibly outspoken about the miltary’s deception and cover up of his death.

(Featured image:  Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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