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Gervais Hakizimana, bitumen galley slave and coach of the new king Kelvin Kiptum

Gervais Hakizimana, bitumen galley slave and coach of the new king Kelvin Kiptum
Gervais Hakizimana, bitumen galley slave and coach of the new king Kelvin Kiptum

Chicago (AFP) – In the shadow of the new marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum, his Rwandan trainer Gervais Hakizimana, with an atypical background, scoured French races and odd jobs before meeting the future king of the race.

A few months ago, the mysterious Kelvin Kiptum, a UFO who landed on the marathon planet in December 2022 (winner in Valencia in 2h01:53), presented himself as an athlete without a coach. In Chicago, he corrected this by quoting Gervais Hakizimana, with whom he proudly posed in front of a “2 h 00 min 35 sec” sign, his new world record – faster than the legend Eliud Kipchoge.

This 36-year-old Rwandan lives between Kenya and France, a country he joined in 2008 to “change his life”, as Philippe Plancke, a school teacher in the North and who knows him, explains to AFP. GOOD.

15 years ago, Gervais Hakizimana arrived at this “volunteer and passionate coach” who then hosted him for several months, in the wake of Dieudonné Disi, Rwandan international on road, track and cross country.

Like dozens of runners from East Africa, Hakizimana has been racing in France for years for, when it’s a good idea, victory bonuses of a few hundred euros. Appreciated by the organizers, he juggles between French, English and Swahili and serves as a translator for the Kenyan athletes.

“Enough to live”

“I lived for running. I needed money, I ran every weekend,” he himself told AFP. “I paid for the education of young people in my family in Rwanda. “

On the website of the French Athletics Federation (FFA), the file of this tar stakhanovist, who “was not looking for glory but for a living”, lists 123 departures for only two abandonments between 2008 and 2016.

But, over the years, as his level dropped and injuries kept coming, he moved to Lyon and had to work “miserably” to live.

“I worked in cleaning, cleaning buildings, windows for example, to earn a salary, and to justify my papers”, temporary visas, explains the runner. Also a courier for an online platform, he had his bike stolen several times before switching to a scooter. In 2022, he is relieved by obtaining a ten-year residence permit.

During his French years, Gervais Hakizimana regularly traveled to Kenya to train. It was near Chepkorio (west), where he now has a room all year round, that he met Kelvin Kiptum in 2013.

“When we did hill climbing sessions in the forest near his home, he was small but followed us, barefoot, after tending the goats and sheep.”

Alongside other locals, Kiptum (born in 1999) grew up and stuck to the Rwandan’s sessions, concocted by his French trainer and soon adapted to his taste.

Their collaboration took off in 2020 when Hakizimana remained stuck in Kenya for several months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In Chepkorio we live together. It’s very close to his house but it’s better that he doesn’t come home, he gets a room, he has to concentrate, he has to cut himself off from distractions. just run, eat, sleep.”


In France, in 2013, Gervais Hakizimana helped Philippe Plancke to create Unirun59, an association which helps high-level athletes seek funding for their training courses, travel and outfits. The Rwandan, who gradually becomes a coach, is also their talent scout in Africa.

Before Kiptum, he coached the Kenyan Kenneth Kipkemoi, winner of the important Rotterdam marathon and 4th in Chicago in 2018. Alas, Kipkemoi was suspended for two years for doping with a beta-blocker in 2020, a lesser sanction, anti-doping having found “negligence” in medical treatment.

“Unlike Kiptum, he was not disciplined,” regrets Gervais Hazikimana.

“Doping is everywhere in Kenya,” he laments. “But it is mainly the clumsy ones who are caught, victims of a lack of education and information.”

Closely monitored, Kiptum was checked every week and sometimes several times a day during his preparation for the Chicago marathon, assures his coach.

“I have confidence in Gervais, someone with integrity,” adds Philippe Plancke.

The two men hope to realize within a few weeks a project for a training center in Rwanda to detect and advance local elite runners.

Gervais Hakizimana has never signed a contract with Kiptum, whose income has exploded over the past ten months. In Chicago, he met for the first time the Belgian manager of the champion, Marc Corstjens. To change your life permanently?

© 2023 AFP



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