2023 – Kelvin Kiptum

Source: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kelvin_Kiptum_2023_Chicago_Marathon.jpg – Chad Vea

8-Oct-2023 – Chicago Marathon – 2:00:35 – Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 3
Date of birth: 2-Dec-1999 (died 11-Feb-2024 – aged 24)
Nationality: Kenyan
World Record Duration: 3 months, 24 days (as of 1 February 2024)

The athlete:                
There was a sense of inevitably that Kelvin Kiptum would someday break the marathon world record. His debut at the 2022 Valencia Marathon, where he won, was in an astounding 2:01:53. He backed this up with an even faster 2:01:25 at the 2023 London Marathon where he again won in wet and rainy conditions. It was over one minute faster than the course record set by Eliud Kipchoge in 2019.

In both instances he ran negative splits, looking like he was sprinting to the finish during the final half of both races. Unlike some who chose distance running later in their careers, Kiptum had always focussed on long distance running, competing in his first half-marathon when he was only 13. When he first started training it was with road runners, Kiptum not having the money to travel to track meets to train at shorter distances.

His international debut came in 2019, where he finished 5th in 59:54 at the EDP Meia Maratona de Lisboa. Continuing to compete around the world in this distance, come 2020 he would shift his focus to the marathon distance. By 2021 his future coach Gervais Hakizimana had put him on a program to prepare for the transition. Hakizimana became Kiptum’s coach in 2023, but during this period he was mostly self-coached.

It was with great excitement that he was announced as competing at the 2023 Chicago Marathon, which had previously hosted many marathon world records and promised conditions highly suitable for another such attempt. Even so, Kiptum played down his chances, aiming to beat the course record set by Dennis Kimetto in 2013 of 2:03:45.

After only ten kilometres, Kiptum had just two other men with him. Halfway disappeared in 60:40, and as Kiptum had done in Valencia and London his pace only kept increasing. The pacer that had completed the lead trio dropped out, with only debutant Daniel Mateiko able to hold on to the pace until after 18 miles he dropped out.

Against only the clock, Kiptum kept surging. His 22nd mile was completed in 4:18, the fastest ever mile run during an official marathon… Or it was, until website LetsRun investigated and found the mile markers were wrongly positioned. It did not change the course length, only those intermediate splits. When Kiptum broke the finishing tape, he became the first man to have ever run under 2:01 in an official marathon, only seconds away from being the first to do so in an average pace of over 21km/h. Kiptum had said in interviews that he had never been in pain during his marathon races. He shifted his training to break the legendary two hour barrier at the 2024 Rotterdam Marathon.

In an unbelievable tragedy, Kiptum would never get this chance as he would be killed when he lost control of his car while driving in his native Kenya. His coach Gervais Hakizimana also perished in the crash. Not since the passing of fellow Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru in 2011, or the legendary American rubber Steve Prefontaine who also passed away under similar circumstances in 1975, has an athlete with such running talent been taken so young. 

The prospect of Kiptum facing up against Kipchoge at the 2024 Olympics will always remain speculative, as well as whether the two hour marathon barrier could have finally fallen in official competition. His loss leaves behind grieving friends and loved ones, including his wife and two young children.

The shoes:                   

Kiptum ran his debut in the Nike Zoom VaporFly Next% 2, one of the most popular choices for elite distance runners. Following his win, Chinese brand Qiaodan looked to have signed the young Kenyan, images appearing on their website of him wearing their kit. Further photos emerged of him testing in Kenya what would be their latest weapon for distance runners, the Feiying Plaid. The midsole is apparently made from thermoplastic polyester elastomers or TPEE for short, just like what Adidas employ with their Lightstrike Pro midsole. There is also of course the obligatory carbon-fibre plate wedged within.

When Kiptum won the 2023 London Marathon, it was again in the (by now superseded) Nike Zoom VaporFly Next% 2, which is where the controversy began. Representatives of Qiaodan claimed that he had signed a contract with the company in January 2023, and stated they would begin legal proceedings. They were meant to meet with Kiptum prior to him travelling to London, but he apparently disappeared and stopped responding to their phone calls.

There is no information that I could locate about how the matter was resolved legally, however when Kiptum lined up for the 2023 Chicago Marathon, it was in the latest Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 3, the prototype of the version that will soon be available to the public. Further evolved from its predecessors, it uses the same formula of ZoomX foam, carbon-fibre plate, and Zoom Air pods under for forefoot. Nike has little reason to change the recipe given its success.