This article provides a list of runners whose lives ended tragically when they were in their prime.
Kenya has been known to produce some of the greatest athletes but sometimes, their lives are cut short and, in this article, Pulse Sports delves into the list of top Kenyan athletes who tragically lost their lives in their prime.
The latest devastating case of an athlete dying mysteriously has been that of the world’s fastest marathoner, Kelvin Kiptum, who lost his life in a road accident. Kiptum was with his coach, Gervais Hakizimana.
Top Kenyan athletes who tragically lost their lives in their prime
1) Samuel Wanjiru (1986-2011)
Samuel Wanjiru was an Olympic marathon champion who won the gold medal in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and made history by becoming the first Kenyan to win an Olympic gold in the marathon.
He makes it to the list of top Kenyan athletes who tragically lost their lives in their prime since his career was just blooming at the time of his demise. He was a two-time Chicago Marathon champion, titles he won in 2009 and 2010.
He then went ahead to win the 2009 London Marathon and also dominated the 2007 Fukuoka Marathon. According to reports, Wanjiru tragically passed away in May 2011 at the age of 24. The circumstances surrounding his death were controversial, and he reportedly fell from a balcony.
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Wanjiru appeared to have suffered internal injuries after the fall and was confirmed dead by doctors at a nearby hospital after attempts to revive him failed.
In May 2017, while testifying during an inquest into Wanjiru's death, his mother Hannah Wanjiru said at the Milimani law court that she believed her son was murdered.
His mother claimed at an inquest into his death that her son was murdered by six men who had conspired with his wife Trizah Njeri.
2) Agnes Tirop (1995-2021)
The demise of Agnes Tirop was once that shocked the whole world since the youngster was just beginning her glamorous career. Tirop was one of the greatest female long-distance runners from Kenya, who was known worldwide for her talent.
She won bronze medals in the 10,000m race at the 2017 and 2019 World Athletics Championships. At the 2015 World Cross Country Championships, Tirop became the second-youngest-ever gold medallist in the women's race, after Zola Budd. At the time of her death in 2021, she was the world record holder in the 10-kilometre women-only event.
Tirop was found dead in her home in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, on 13 October 2021; she had multiple stab wounds in the neck and abdomen. Authorities believe a domestic altercation occurred and Tirop was stabbed, as they also found her car windows had been shattered.
3) Kelvin Kiptum (1999-2024)
The world of athletics was left in utter shock after the world’s fastest marathoner, Kelvin Kiptum, was confirmed dead on Sunday night. Kiptum, the reigning London Marathon, was in the company of his coach and another woman when he was involved in an accident that left himself and his coach dead. The woman sustained serious injuries and was rushed to the hospital.
The Chicago Marathon champion came to the marathon realm with a bang and he was just getting started. He made his full marathon debut at the 2022 Valencia Marathon where he posted the fastest time in a debut.
He then proceeded to the 2023 London Marathon, clocking the now-third-fastest time before completely obliterating Eliud Kipchoge’s world record time at the Chicago Marathon.
4) Nicholas Bett (1992-2018)
Nicholas Bett was one of the most promising athletes Kenya had but his life was sadly cut short after an accident. He was a World Champion in the 400m Hurdles race, having won in 2015, and a two-time bronze medallist at the African Championships in Athletics.
Bett died in a road accident near the town of Lessos, in Nandi County, in August 2018. He had arrived back from the 2018 African Championships in Athletics in Nigeria two days earlier, and was driving along the Kapsabet to Eldoret road on his way back to Nairobi.
Bett lost control of his car, a Toyota Prado SUV, which then hit a bump in the road and landed in a ditch, killing the athlete instantly.
5) David Lelei (1971-2010)
David Lelei was a Kenyan middle-distance runner who specialized in the 800m and 1500m and became an athletics official and a political candidate but died in a vehicle accident in 2010.
He was involved in a road accident along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway, about 200km from Nairobi. Lelei won silver at 1500m at the 1999 All-African Games, and later that summer finished seventh over the same distance at the World Championships. He was fourth at the 2001 World Indoor Championships in the 800m.
In the car with Lelei was Moses Tanui, 1996 and 1998 Boston Marathon winner and 1991 World 10,000m champion over the 10,000m, who sustained minor injuries.