Marathoner Kelvin Kiptum of Kenya racing in the London Marathon, where he placed first. Kiptum died last Sunday in a fatal car crash.

Photo by Katie Chan via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0,

Sports fans witnessed a young phenom with immense athletic talent achieve greatness last Sunday when Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs to their second Super Bowl victory in two years and third in five years.

The 28-year-old gunslinger collected his third Super Bowl MVP award, adding to his case for being the greatest quarterback of all time.

But that Sunday also brought devastation in the sports world, as Kelvin Kiptum, the marathon world record-holder, died in a car crash in Kenya, along with his coach, Gervais Hakizimana.

Kiptum leaves behind his wife, Asenath Cheruto Rotich, and two young children.

At 24 years old (there is some reporting that he was 27), Kiptum had only three marathons to his name but, like Mahomes, had immediate success and showed potential beyond that of anyone who had come before.

Mahomes was named MVP after his first full season; Kiptum holds the record for fastest debut marathon.

Beyond both being young talents, possibly on the way to being the best ever at their respective sports, the two athletes have often made it look bafflingly easy.

For Mahomes, that looks like flicking his wrist while on the run to launch the ball across his body. Or escaping a collapsing pocket with a couple of side steps, buying time and locating an open teammate down the field.

In Kiptum’s case, besides winning all three, he negative split his marathons, running the second 13.1 miles faster than the first. At the London Marathon last year, Kiptum split 61:40 and 59:45 en route to a 2:01:25—a mere 16 seconds off the world record at the time.

For context, his 59:45 split is only two seconds slower than Ryan Hall’s American record in the half marathon.

But more to the point of making it look easy, Kiptum said after his world record race at the 2023 Chicago Marathon that he had not yet felt pain during a marathon.

It was in the Windy City that Kiptum ran 2:00:35 and brought the human race within a minute of running under two hours in a record-eligible race for the first time. (Eliud Kipchoge ran 1:59:40 in 2019 but it was on a closed course with a rotation of pacemakers.)

Kiptum was set to run the Rotterdam Marathon in two months and announced he was going to try to break the lodestar barrier of the 26.2-mile race.

“That might look ambitious, but I’m not afraid,” Kiptum said in November of last year. “There’s no limit to human energy.”

Kiptum’s words parallel those of a man who did succeed in answering a question of the human body’s limit: Could someone run a mile in under four minutes?

“No one can say, ‘You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that,’” Roger Bannister, who became the first person to dip under four minutes, said. “The human spirit is indomitable.”

Kiptum personified this indomitability and limitlessness through his negative splits and kicks late in the race.

Notably, Bannister’s race against the clock didn’t happen in a vacuum. American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy were both strong competition for the Brit.

The three were racing not only themselves and the clock, but also each other—despite living on different continents.

Landy improved on Bannister’s time of 3:59.4 less than two months later, running 3:57.9. Santee, however, ran between four-flat and 4:01 three times and finished his career with a personal best of 4:00.5.

This has led Santee to be largely forgotten in comparison to Bannister, and even Landy. He’s been relegated to the “what if” category.

But Santee still accomplished a lot. He set world records and American records. He was an NCAA champion in cross country. He competed at the Olympics in the 5000-meter race.

He was also a part of Bannister’s temporal victory. Santee is a significant figure in the history of the four-minute mile—despite never breaking it himself.

The same holds for Kiptum.

He will never break two hours in the marathon. But someone will.

“There’s no limit to human energy,” after all.

And when the barrier is broken, it should be said that Kiptum had a part in it.