Kelvin Kiptum did not so much break on to the marathon scene, as smash his way to the very top of it in a heartbeat.
His was not a name on many well-informed lips when he toed the start line of the 2022 Valencia Marathon.
This was a man who had eschewed the traditional track career pursued by so many of his forebears before transitioning to the world of big city road running.
Kiptum was a road runner from the beginning, citing a lack of funds that prevented him from travelling to track meets. It was a path less travelled, but one that seemed to suit him well.
A string of half marathons across Europe in his early years culminated in victory at the 2021 La Route du Louvre in Lens, France, and eighth place over the same distance in Valencia later that year.
2022 was his time to step up to the full distance in Valencia, but what would he do on debut in the lightning-fast surroundings of the south-eastern Spanish city known for producing quick times?
When he reached the finish, the answer was emphatic. Kiptum had become the third fastest marathon runner in history, and owner of the fastest debut time: 2:01:53.
The Abbott World Marathon Majors beckoned.
All roads lead to London four months later, where he almost snatched Eliud Kipchoge’s world record in his second attempt at 26.2 miles. The course record would have to suffice, winning in a time of 2:01:25.
But there was an overwhelming sense of inevitability that it would not be long before Kiptum would surpass Kipchoge’s 2:01:09.
Kiptum claims the world record
That feeling was confirmed in ideal conditions on the shores of Lake Michigan, where he stormed around the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to stop the clock at a scarcely-believable 2:00:35.
It was a performance that brought the prospect of the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon on a world record-eligible course tantalizingly close.
Kiptum, who was crowned 2023 AbbottWMM champion following his win in Chicago, was due to make his sub-two bid on the streets of Rotterdam in April 2024.
He was also certain to have figured in the Olympic marathon in Paris this summer, in what could have been his first head-to-head meeting with Kipchoge.
Now, that run in the Windy City on October 8, 2023, will be the defining moment of a career and a life cut cruelly short.
As undoubted a tragedy as it is for the sport, its followers and the nation of Kenya, Kiptum’s passing will leave no one more bereft than his wife and two children. All thoughts are with them and the loved ones of his coach Gervais Hakizimana, who also tragically died in the accident.
“While he will be celebrated for his record-breaking performances, I will remember him as an incredible talent and as an even more magnificent person,” said Carey Pinkowski, Executive Race Director of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
“The sport of marathon running has suffered a tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Hugh Brasher, Event Director of the TCS London Marathon added: “Kelvin had the sport of marathon running in his feet and at his feet. He was a 'once in a generation' athlete who was set to redefine the boundaries of our sport. Three marathons, three wins.
“The fastest marathon debutant in Valencia, London's course record holder and the world record holder in Chicago, all within the space of less than 12 months. His was a flame that burned so bright and last night was tragically put out.”