ELGEYO MARAKWET, Kenya (Reuters) - Kelvin Kiptum's devastated wife had been looking forward to watching him try to become a marathon legend as the first athlete under 2 hours. Now she is wondering how to tell their two children that their father was killed in a car accident.
Sobbing next to her in the village where they all lived, Kiptum's father is desolate that his only child has died, and with him the hopes for a better life for the family.
Police said the athlete lost control of the vehicle he was driving and veered off the road into a ditch, travelling for about 60 metres along it before crashing into a large tree in Kenya's Rift Valley. The 24-year-old's coach was also killed.
"He hoped to run in sub 2 hours. He was working hard and sometimes I told him he trained too much and when the time comes he will be too tired but he would so 'no, it is fine' and that he is supposed to go 10 laps," his wife, Asenath Cheruto Rotich, told Citizen TV in Chepsamo, the village in the county of Elgeyo Marakwet where the family lives.
"I used to tell him to rest on Sundays, but he would refuse. We had planned to go with him to Rotterdam in April. And now it is not possible," she said of the attempt on the almost mythic milestone.
Kiptum's rise to world marathon sensation from barefoot cattle herder was meteoric.
He ran only three marathons. In his 2022 debut in Valencia, he not only won the race but also clocked the fastest debut time ever. In 2023, after setting a new course record in London, he went on to make marathon history in Chicago, winning in 2 hours and 35 seconds to beat compatriot Eliud Kipchoge's previous world record by more than 30 seconds.
After Rotterdam, Kiptum was hoping to make his Olympic debut in Paris this summer.
His father Samson Cheruyot, a farmer, said Kiptum was confident he would transform his family's lives with his sudden fame, race winnings and the subsequent lucrative sponsorship deals with companies, including Nike, in the United States and Europe.
"He told me that the white man will come to build us a house and buy us a car, that is what we talked about," Cheruyot said in Swahili. "I don't have another child, my wife had problems having more children after him and the hospital told us to keep it like that (and not try for more children)."
"So we lived like that. At the moment I don't know what to say, now everyone is looking at me, we don't know what to do," he said.
Kiptum's wife appealed to the government to help her look after their children, aged seven and four. "He loved his kids, I don't even know what I will tell them. He was so loving and caring, I am just asking them (the government) to help me," she said.
(Additional reporting by Mukelwa Hlatshwayo in Nairobi; Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Alison Williams)