In 2009, in Kaptagat, a settlement in southwestern Kenya, an incidental encounter that would later shape the world of athletics occurred when Gervais Hakizimana, a former Rwandan athlete-turned coach crossed paths with a barefooted youngster named Kelvin Kiptum.
At the time, Kiptum was tending to his father's cattle, while Hakizimana was doing his routine training practice, little did they know that this meeting would culminate into the youngster breaking the world marathon record in 2023 under Hakizimana's mentorship.
Since 2018, Hakizimana had played a pivotal role in the Kenyan champion's journey until Sunday, February 11 when the two died in a car accident in Western Kenya.
Their coach-athlete connection was characterised by Kiptum's transitioning from the half-marathon to the full marathon under Hakizimana's guidance. In a 2023 interview with the BBC, Hakizimana revealed that convincing Kiptum to embrace the challenge of a full 42.2km marathon required time and persuasion.
The story of Kiptum stands out as a testament to Hakizimana's coaching prowess, but it is only one chapter in his career. Colleagues and acquaintances describe the 36-year-old fallen coach as a man with ability to spot budding talents in athletics and show them the path to greatness just like he did for Kiptum.
He was only going to unearth more great athletes through his new athletics development projects that he was about to start in his native Rwanda.
Who is Hakizimana?
Born in Nyaruguru District, Southern Province, Hakizimana transitioned from a successful long-distance athletic career, notably representing APR athletics club and the national team, to coaching and talent scouting around 2008. His professional journey took him to various countries, including France, Kenya and Rwanda.
Recognised for his keen eye for talent, Hakizimana had been actively scouting potential athletes since 2017. He would identify promising individuals and connect them with good managers, particularly in France.
Emmanuel Ntakiyimana, a former athlete and friend of the late coach, attested to Hakizimana's work ethic and courage in talent development.
The two were teammates in APR athletics club back in 2008 and they were later residing together in Kenya.
Through a collaboration with UniRun 59, a French-based organisation dedicated to talent development, Hakizimana started scouting athletes from Kenya, training them and connecting them with managers.
UniRun 59 was founded by French coach Philippe Plancke.
Ntakiyimana also talked about how Hakizimana discovered and groomed Kiptum, until the athlete achieved a new world marathon record in October 2023 when clocking the 26.1 miles (42km) in two hours and 35 seconds.
His marathon record was ratified just last week by the World Athletics.
He reckoned that the late coach could have nurtured more athletes like Kiptum, even in Rwanda through some of his projects.
At the time of his passing, Hakizimana had several personal and collective projects, including the forthcoming 'UniRun Rwanda', a joint athletics talent development initiative which he, together with Ntakiyimana and Philippe Plancke, had submitted for registration with the Rwanda Governance Board.
The initiative could start operations in Rwanda as soon as in March.
"We can't stop running it. And, this time, we have to do it for him," said Ntakiyimana, who holds the national record in the 400m since 2016.
"Rwanda has lost a great man, a great coach. We have to start what he has always dreamed to do to uplift Rwandan athletes," said Ntakiyimana.
Dr. Jean Damascene Habarurema, a Rwandan athlete long distance runner who represents France, reflected on Hakizimana as a man of few words who deeply loved athletics.
Sharing a personal anecdote, he highlighted the late coach's philosophy of loving what one does as the key to success.
"One day, I went running with him and he told me that we should learn to love what we do. He said loving what he was doing was what made him reach where he was," Habarurema told Times Sport.
Additionally, Habarurema conveyed coach Philippe Plancke's comments about Hakizimana, stating that Hakizimana's death was a significant loss for athletics due to his instrumental role in spotting and attracting athletes.