In 2018, when Kelvin Kiptum participated in his first major local competition, he had to rely on borrowed running shoes due to financial constraints. Fast forward to this year’s Chicago marathon, where he achieved a breathtaking world record of two hours and 35 seconds, and Kiptum was now sporting the latest Nike ‘super-shoes,’ which some credit for his remarkable feat.
Kiptum’s journey to becoming a global marathon icon is as astonishing as the strides he makes on the track. The 23-year-old, nominated for the title of Men’s World Athlete of the Year by the governing body World Athletics, shared his sentiments with BBC Sport Africa, saying, “It has been a long journey for me through my career. I have been trying so hard to pursue this dream to run a world record. It has come true, and I am really happy. My life has now changed.”
Upon his return to Kenya, Kiptum was given a hero’s welcome, marking his newfound celebrity status. Celebrations spanned two days, taking place in both the capital, Nairobi, and his hometown in the south-west of the country.
The London Marathon champion revealed that he contemplated cancelling his trip to Chicago due to health issues, including a groin injury and malaria. However, his coach, Gervais Hakizimana, a retired Rwandese runner, persuaded him to recover for a few days and continue training.
Kiptum and his coach’s relationship began in 2018, but they first crossed paths when Kiptum was a young boy. Hakizimana reminisced, “I knew him when he was a little boy, herding livestock barefooted. It was in 2009, I was training near his father’s farm, he’d come kicking at my heels, and I would chase him away. Now, I am grateful to him for his achievement.”
Despite his remarkable success, just a year ago, Kiptum had never run a marathon. He is part of a new wave of Kenyan athletes who chose to start their careers on the road, diverging from the traditional track-based approach. Kiptum attributed this decision to financial limitations, saying, “I had no money to travel to track sessions, so I started training with road-running guys – and that’s how I got into marathon.”
Hakizimana noted that Kiptum was initially hesitant about running a marathon, preferring shorter half-marathons. However, he eventually embraced the 42-kilometer distance, leading to his achievements in Valencia, London, and Chicago.
While Kenya boasts several world-class marathon runners, including the legendary Eliud Kipchoge, Kiptum’s unique racing style sets him apart. Athletics commentator Martin Keino praised Kiptum’s fearlessness and his ability to attack the second half of the marathon with unmatched determination.