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Ethiopian Kebede sets course record to win Chicago Marathon

Updated: November 9, 2012 6:18AM

Tsegaye Kebede had enough left to finish “a great day’’ in a sprint Sunday.

It was a perfect way to symbolize the way the 25-year-old Ethiopian pushed the pace in the final 10 miles to win the Bank of American Chicago Marathon in a course record of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 38 seconds.

“My dream is always to run 2:04,’’ he said. “I am very happy. This is a great day.’’

Even with the closing push, he had enough left to wave his black beanie with a flourish on Columbus as he became the first Ethiopian to win the men’s side to break a string of nine straight victories by Kenyan men in Chicago.

The race course begins and ends on Columbus in Grant Park, going as far north as Addison, west as Damen and south as 35th.

The conditions — 40 degrees at the start, 44 as the leaders finished — suited Kebede, who also shattered his personal best (2:05:18 in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2009), and collected $150,000 with the $50,000 course record bonus.

It was not just a great day for him.

“When we win one to third, I am happy,’’ he said. “It is a great day for Ethiopia.’’

That’s because his fellow countrymen — Feyisa Lilesa (2:04:52) and Tilahun Regassa (2:05:28) — finished second and third and also topped the previous course record set last year by Kenyan Moses Mosop (2:05:37).

Those times came because of Kebede’s pushing.

“When we passed halfway, it was too slow,’’ he said. “But what I think after halfway and pacemakers drop out, I pushed by myself.’’

At halfway, the pacemakers had run a 1:02:54. Kebede pushed it hard, then truly thinned the field with a 4:33 in the 21st mile.

The progression of the 10K splits show just how much Kebede pushed the race to be progressively faster: 29:55, 29:45, 29:22 and 28:56.

“For the pace to get hot that early at 16 miles, mentally it screws you up,’’ said Kenyan Wesley Korir who finished second last year and fifth this year (2:06:13). “It was a fight mentally and physically to stay with them.”

Time is a funny thing.

In 2010, Kebede finished second to the late Sammy Wanjiru in what is considered one of the greatest marathons.

“At that time, we run under 2:06,’’ he said, noting how marathon times progress.

That’s true on many levels.

“This is my personal best,’’ said Lilesa, 22, whose previous best was a 2:05:23 (Rotterdam, 2010). “I am very happy for it.’’

That Rotterdam performance, when he was 20, made Lilesa, the youngest to break 2:06.

Regassa, also 22, was running his debut marathon.

“I am very happy to finish in this time, and for Ethiopians,’’ he said.

“Next time I will try to do better than this.’’

“Those guys came in prepared to race,’’ Korir said. “They are working as a team. They were helping each other a lot.’’

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