Tsegaye Kebede needed no extra motivation for Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
After getting passed over for selection to the Ethiopian Olympic team for the Summer Games in London despite a strong track record of top marathon finishes, Kebede sent a message with a record-breaking performance on a chilly Chicago morning (42 degrees at start time).
Kebede shattered the course record by nearly a minute, finishing the 26.2 miles in 2:04:38. The previous record (2:05:37) was set last year by Moses Mosop who opted to run the New York City Marathon this fall.
With this stellar performance, Kebede became the first Ethiopian male to win the Chicago Marathon in its 35-year history. He finished 14 seconds ahead of countryman Feyisa Lilesa. Kebede's previous best time was 2:05:38, set in 2009.
"I don't believe it," said Kebede, smiling ear to ear at the finish line. "I think it is a mistake how I ran. I like it. I got my goal."
It was a good day for Ethiopia on the women's side as well as Atsede Baysa finished first to complete the sweep for the East African nation. In a thrilling stride-for-stride battle down the stretch, Baysa outdueled Kenyan Rita Jeptoo, crossing the finish line a second ahead of her in 2:22:03. In her only other appearance at the Chicago, Baysa was second in 2010 and lost to three-time winner Liliya Shobukhova late in the race.
"In 2010 I made a mistake by going too fast the first half," Baysa said through an interpreter. "This year I had the goal of winning the race by not starting too fast. I prepared very well for the race."
For Kebede, he had some unfinished business.
In the 2010 Chicago Marathon -- his only other previous appearance in Chicago -- Kebede was involved in what many consider to be one of the greatest showdowns in marathon history when he fought the late Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya in the waning moments.
In that race, he fell short to finish second.
On Sunday, Kebede made sure history did not repeat itself as he reeled off five straight sub-4:40 miles in the second half to separate from a group of runners including Lilesa, Tilahun Regassa of Ethiopia and Kenyans Sammy Kitwara and Wesley Korir, who finished in that order. Kebede ran the second half in 61:43 after a 62:55 first half.
It was a two-man race -- Kebede vs. Lilesa -- around the 23-mile mark.
Lilesa made a little surge against the shorter Kebede who responded by matching his move, then slowly pulling away with steely determination. As he was coming up Columbus Drive with a commanding lead to the finish, Kebede played to crowd, pulling off his skull cap and waving it around.
"When at 35 kilometers I saw the time I realized the pace would lead to a 2:04 finish, I focused on that, and kept pushing," said Kebede, who took home $150,000 total ($100,000 for the win and $50,000 for the new course record). "It has been my dream to run 2:04. This is a great day for me in the Chicago Marathon."
Chicago Marathon Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski thought the Olympic snub fired Kebede up.
"Him not going to the Olympics set him back," Pinkowski said. "Like any great champion, he refocused and sent a real strong message to the marathon world that he is still a force. He is a great athlete. This reestablishes his dominance."
The top American runner, Dathan Ritzenhein, finished ninth in 2:07:47.
In the women's race, Shobukhova was the early favorite, looking to win her unprecedented fourth straight Chicago Marathon. She came in fresh and well trained after a right hamstring injury at the London Olympics caused her to drop out.
Shobukhova was in the hunt until around the 18-mile mark but that is when Baysa, Jeptoo and Kenyan Lucy Kabuu made their move. Baysa and Jeptoo then shook off Kabuu, who was dealing with an Archilles injury, and ran alone for last six miles.
As they traded surges in the final yards. Baysa finally edged her at the tape for the closest finish in race history.
"I knew Rita was coming so I had to be first," Baysa said.
Jeptoo added to the excitement at the end, raising her arms as if she had won. She was asked if she thought she had pulled off the comeback.
"I knew I was second," said Jeptoo, who shaved 1:34 off her personal best time. "I was very happy because I finished second and had the energy to finish fast."
Baysa pocketed in $110,000 in prize money.
-- $100,000 for the win and a $10,000 bonus for a sub 2:24 marathon.
Following Kabuu (2:22:59), Shobukhova was fourth in 2:22:59 and Caroline of Rotich of Kenya rounded out the top five at 2:23:22.
Two American women runners cracked the top 10. Renee Metivier Baillie was eighthoverall in her debut marathon with a time of 2:27:17 -- the third fastest debut marathon for an American female -- while Dot McMahan finished one spot behind her in 2:23:11.
"I am happy to be here," Metivier Baillie said. "It was my first marathon and I did not know what to expect. I had a healthy fear of the event. I felt good and I am excited for the future."