Kenya's marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach have been killed in a traffic accident in the Rift Valley, cutting short the career of the only man to officially run the endurance classic in less than two hours and one minute.
Kiptum, 24, set the world record at the Chicago Marathon in October, with a time of 2h 0m 35s to beat the mark of 2h 01m 09s run by compatriot Eliud Kipchoge at Berlin in 2022.
Kiptum, who has clocked three of the seven fastest marathon times in history, had hoped to become the first man to run the marathon in under two hours in race conditions at Rotterdam in April, as well as make his Olympic debut at Paris in July.
"We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the devastating loss of Kelvin Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana," said World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.
"On behalf of all World Athletics, we send our deepest condolences to their families, friends, team mates and the Kenyan nation.
"An incredible athlete leaving an incredible legacy, we will miss him dearly."
According to the police report, Kiptum was driving his Rwandan coach and a woman in a car near the Rift Valley village, where he was born, when the accident occurred.
The athlete lost control of the vehicle and veered off the road into a ditch, travelling for about 60 metres, before crashing into a large tree.
Kiptum and Hakizimana died at the scene, but the woman - Sharon Chepkurui Kosgei Keiyo, 24 - survived with serious injuries and was treated at a local hospital.
Tributes poured in from senior Kenyan politicians and fellow athletes.
"His mental strength and discipline were unmatched," tweeted Kenya's President William Ruto. "Kiptum was our future."
Kipchoge, who had been expected to race Kiptum at the Paris Olympics, says he is "deeply saddened" by the death of "rising star" Kiptum.
ON Twitter, Kipchoge, 39, says Kiptum was an "athlete who had a whole life ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness".
"Kelvin was an amazingly talented athlete and had already achieved so much," wrote British running great Mo Farah. "He truly had a special talent and I have no doubt he would have gone on to have had an incredible career.
"I send all my sympathies and condolences to his and Gervais' family and friends at this tragic time."
A product of the high altitude region of Kenya, which has produced most of the country's world renowned distance runners, Kiptum started his international career on the half-marathon circuit in 2019.
He made an explosive entry into the full 42.195km distance by running the then-fourth fastest time on record (2h 01m 53s) to win the 2022 Valencia Marathon on debut.
That race revealed his trademark approach to marathons, running with the pack for the first 30km, and then upping the pace and racing off alone for the remainder of the race.
He used the same tactics to win last April's London Marathon in a course record of 2h 01m 25s and again at Chicago in October to take 34 seconds off Kipchoge's world mark.
That was to be his final race before his untimely death, which came only a week after World Athletics had ratified his world record.
"I am deeply saddened by the tragic passing of the marathon world recordholder and rising star Kelvin Kiptum," said compatriot and two-time Olympic champion Kipchoge. "An athlete who had a whole life ahead of him to achieve incredible greatness.
"I offer my deepest condolences to his young family. May God comfort you during this trying time."
"Kenya has lost a special gem," said Kenyan Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba. "Lost for words."