CHICAGO (AP) — Tsegaye Kebede saw a few Ethiopian flags as he approached the finish line and figured he’d say hello.
So he started waving.
Kebede had plenty to celebrate, shattering the course record while winning the Chicago Marathon on Sunday morning.
He pulled away late and was all alone, smiling to fans as he neared the finish at Grant Park and crossing the line in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 38 seconds. That easily eclipsed the previous mark of 2:05:37 set by Kenya’s Moses Mosop last year and was more than enough to beat countrymen Feyisa Lilesa (2:04:52) and Tilahun Regassa (2:05:28), who also bettered Mosop’s record.
“This is a great day for us, for Ethiopia especially,” Kebede said.
Atsede Baysa made it a sweep for the country with a thrilling win in the women’s race, edging Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo by about a step. The two traded leads down the stretch, with Jeptoo briefly grabbing it as they turned into Grant Park and Baysa quickly regaining it.
She kept looking over her shoulder during the final stretch and barely hung on, with Jeptoo making one final push and raising her arms at the finish line.
Baysa broke the tape, though, finishing in 2:22:03, one second ahead of Jeptoo. That ended the three-year run of Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova, who placed fourth at 2:22:59. Kenya’s Lucy Kabuu (2:22:41) was third.
“I came to win this race,” Baysa said. “When I came upon the finish line, I knew I won the race.”
Jeptoo knew it, too, but was elated anyway. That’s why she raised her arms at the line.
“I was happy because I finished second, and I had a lot of energy to finish,” Jeptoo said.
The winners each received $100,000. Kebede earned an extra $50,000 for setting the course record and Baysa got another $10,000 for running a sub 2:24:00.
On a cool day that seemed made for a course record, Kebede delivered.
He and Lilesa started to break away over the final three miles, and with about a mile to go, it was clear that this was Kebede’s race.
The runner-up to the late Sammy Wanjiru in 2010 in a stirring finish, he ended a nine-year run by Kenyan men and, maybe, sent a message that he should have made the Ethiopian Olympic team.
He got passed over after taking third in Beijing in 2008 but came through Sunday with the first win by an Ethiopian man in Chicago. It was also the second major marathon victory for Kebede to go with the top prize at London in 2010.
With 42-degree temperatures at the start, the conditions were good for a race marked by tragedy and mishap in recent years.
Chad Schieber, a 35-year-old Michigan police officer and father of three, died during the 2007 marathon in near-90 degree heat.
Race organizers improved communication among various agencies and the runners. They also added more water distribution points and medical aid stations, but tragedy struck again in 2011 when William Caviness, a 35-year-old North Carolina firefighter, collapsed about 500 yards from the finish line on a day when temperatures reached the high 70s.
There was also a mishap in 2006, when champion Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya slipped on a wet decal and banged his head as he crossed the finish line.
Mosop won in 2011 with the then-course record but missed the Olympics because of an injury and was not in Sunday’s race. He is scheduled to run the New York City Marathon next month.
That left Wesley Korir as the favorite in his fifth Chicago appearance after winning in Boston this year, but he dropped off the lead pack around the 20th mile and took fifth.
Is Kebede the best marathon runner in the world at the moment? Korir said he’d let the fans decide that.
“But I think the marathon world is getting very competitive,” he added. “There are a lot of other people that are coming up. But I think at the moment, definitely, he’s a very good competitor. And I think I’ll be honored if he’s the best marathoner in the world right now.”
He was certainly the best on this day, and the same goes for Baysa — barely. She managed to come out on top and end an impressive run by a three-time defending champion.
Shobukhova was looking to put aside a disappointing Olympics and become just the second four-time winner — male or female — in Chicago. The only other runner to do that was Khalid Khannouchi (1997, 1999, 2000, 2002).
She had been dealing with a hamstring problem before this race, although she said it was not an issue Sunday, after she was unable to finish at the London Games because of stomach cramps.
“It just gives me some perspective, just take one step back and go for it again,” Shobukhova said.