Kenya bids a heartfelt farewell to marathon star Kelvin Kiptum. GETTY IMAGES

Elite athletes, officials and a crowd of mourners gathered on Friday to bid farewell to Kelvin Kiptum, the esteemed Kenyan marathon champion and world record holder. The funeral was held at the place where Kelvin Kiptum began his journey, honed his talents and finally said goodbye.

Surrounded by people who loved and supported him, marathon star Kelvin Kiptum said his final farewell at a funeral in his hometown of Chepkorio on Friday 23 February. The young athlete was a role model for a generation of athletes in his short life. 

Earlier this month, Kiptum, and his coach Gervais Hakizimana, tragically died in a car accident in the Rift Valley. Kenya's President William Ruto and World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe wanted to give Kiptum a final 'hero's farewell'. 

The East African nation had seen "the future of athletics" in Kiptum, said Ruto. "He had more reasons not to succeed than to succeed but he worked against the odds," describing his death as "a very heavy moment."

Coe praised the young athlete for reaching "the pinnacle of achievement" at the age of 24 and remarked that his death was "a matter of deep sadness." "Be assured that your achievements are cherished, indelible and secure in the annals of our history and will never be forgotten," he added. 

Asenath Rotich, Kiptum's wife, was deeply moved as she read an emotional tribute to the remarkable marathon talent, her words filled with tears. "It is unbelievable that today I have learnt to stay with our beloved children without you coming home again. I will continue to make my vows of love even in your rest," she insisted, revealing that the couple had planned a wedding ceremony in April.

Mourners began arriving at the funeral site at dawn, some wearing black shirts with a portrait of Kiptum prominently displayed on the front. They paid their respects to the body, which lay in a partially open coffin on a red carpet, as a choir sang hymns. Four large screens were set up to broadcast the proceedings to the large crowd of villagers gathered outside.

People gather and cry at the coffin of Kelvin Kiptum. GETTY IMAGES
People gather and cry at the coffin of Kelvin Kiptum. GETTY IMAGES

A multitude of athletes, including Faith Kipyegon, the world record holder for the 1,500 metres, and David Rudisha, a two-time Olympic champion in the 800 metres, gathered around Kiptum's coffin to offer prayers. They then decorated it with delicate petals of pink and white roses as a final tribute. 

Gervais Hakizimana, 36, Kiptum's coach from 2019, was buried in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Wednesday. The 24-year-old father of two had recently revealed his ambition to break the legendary two-hour barrier in Rotterdam in April. 

Kiptum had competed in just three marathons and holds three of the seven fastest times in the history of the event. He was favourite to win gold at the Paris Olympics, where he was expected to go head-to-head with Kipchoge for the first time.