This is a heartfelt column by Justin Lagat, who attended the funeral and memorial for Marathon world record holder, Kelvin KIptum. Our thoughts are with Kelvin’s family, friends and the nation of Kenya. 

I knew it was going to be an emotional day, no doubt about it. The death of Kelvin Kiptum was a significant loss to his family, friends, athletics fraternity and the whole world. He was a tremendous, rare talent who, unfortunately, died in a tragic road accident before realizing his full potential. However, the sadness and the expression of shock and grief that I saw while being part of the convoy that took Kiptum’s body from Eldoret through Iten to his home village on 22nd February was much more than I had expected.

Being in the Red Cross Club in my high school years, we were always taught to give more attention to victims who were silent at the scene of an accident than those who were screaming and wailing for help. So, when the vehicles slowed down, and the crowds increased in size as we neared Kiptum’s home village, the silence, the shock in their faces and the way some held their chins and stretched their hands up in prayer was more saddening than if they would have been wailing. I saw an old grey-haired woman standing beside the road with two other young women suddenly fall and fainted. One woman ran away, probably to seek help, while another removed her extra garment and started using it to blow air around her face.

Mourners along the course of the Kelvin Kiptum funeral procession, February 23, 2024, photo by Justin Lagat

Such were the scenes almost all the way as the convoy of Kelvin Kiptum’s hearse went from Iten to his home in Chepkorio. Children from the nearby schools paused their studies and came out to pay their last respects beside the road. Business people, farmers and locals left whatever they were doing and lined up along the road to mourn the fallen hero. There was an air of sadness all around. Nature itself appeared to be grieving. Cattle and other unattended domestic animals kept a safe distance beside the Iten-Chepkorio road as they watched in shock. A bull that stood lonely at some distance away from the road bellowed as he kept his eyes on the convoy. Even the sounds produced by the buses, cars, vans, trucks’ engines, and tyres meeting the gravel sounded like they were in mourning, too.

 “I wish Kelvin would wake up and see all these people coming out to pay their last respects to him,” one of the mourners in one of the cars wondered, and her companion answered her that at least his father, mother and family have seen that their son was loved.

Once in Chepkorio, Kiptum’s body was taken for a brief church service in his home church before it was brought to Kapkenda Girl’s High School grounds, where family, friends and athletes paid their moving tributes.

There are several girls in this school whom Kelvin Kiptum assisted in paying their school fees, and the girls gave emotional speeches to eulogize him.

Kelvin Kiptum Memorial, February 23, 2024, photo by Justin Lagat

“Why couldn’t death wait until Kiptum could run under two hours in April? Why couldn’t death wait until after the Paris Olympics?” one of the girls who is part of the school’s athletics club cried and solemnly promised to break world records in future in honour of Kelvin Kiptum.

The message moved the mourners, and I saw one athlete handing out paper towels that could not meet the demand. To my left, I turned, and my eyes met my neighbour’s red and teary eyes. I turned to the other side, and I could not bring my eyes to meet that of my other neighbour after seeing her mouth trembling and quickly shifting my focus back to my phone.

Kelvin Kiptum was a great man who was greatly loved and admired by many.