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Kenya mourns the sudden death of marathon runner Kelvin Kiptum

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Kenya has been celebrating the career and life of marathon runner Kelvin Kiptum, who went from borrowing running shoes to breaking world records. Kenyans are mourning his sudden death, as Michael Kaloki reports from Nairobi.

MICHAEL KALOKI: Kelvin Kiptum literally exploded onto the running scene, from the Valencia Marathon 14 months ago...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED RACE COMMENTATOR #1: Kelvin Kiptum is the winner. Wow. What a run, Richard.

KALOKI: ...To last year's London Marathon...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED RACE COMMENTATOR #2: Kelvin Kiptum, what a superstar.

KALOKI: ...And finally, the Chicago Marathon in October.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED RACE COMMENTATOR #3: An amazing effort by Kelvin Kiptum for a new world record at the...

KALOKI: He was an extraordinary athlete destined for greatness, his goal within his grasp - shattering the two-hour marathon barrier. But this wasn't to be. On Sunday, Kiptum and his Rwandan coach Garvais Hakizimana were killed in a road accident in Eldoret, Kenya. He was 24. The news was a huge blow to a country that greatly prides itself in its athletes. In a statement, Kenya's President William Ruto called Kiptum, I quote, "extraordinary sportsman who had left an extraordinary mark on the globe."

Born in Chepkorio, a rural area in Kenya's Rift Valley region, he grew up as an only child, herding cattle as a young boy, harboring dreams of becoming an athlete like his cousin. His father said that when Kelvin began his rise in the world of athletics, he had always promised his parents he would build them a decent house to live in.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

KALOKI: I'm standing on the slopes of Ngong Hills in Kenya's Kajiado County. This area is about 13 miles southwest of the capital, Nairobi. I can see some athletes training here, running up the hills. It is on similar hills like these ones in Kenya's Rift Valley region, where a young Kelvin Kiptum would train and later proceed to represent the country on the international marathon circuit.

BRENDA SARAH: We are saddened because he was supposed to be in the Olympics.

KALOKI: For many Kenyans like Brenda Sarah, Kiptum was not just a source of pride for the country. He was an example of hope.

SARAH: Now we've lost somebody who would have given us maybe a medal or gold medal. So it's so saddening about it.

KALOKI: The Kenyan government has announced that it will oversee arrangements for the athlete's funeral, which is due to be held next week. They have also pledged to build Kiptum's family the house he had promised he would build them. His life was brief, but his legacy lasting. And here in Kenya, his loss is felt by everyone.

For NPR news, I'm Michael Kaloki in Nairobi, Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Kaloki