Runners leave the starting line during the 2012 Chicago Marathon, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

CHICAGO, Oct 7 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede slashed almost a minute off the course record to win the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, leading an African sweep in the 35th running of the race.

Kebede stormed to victory in an unofficial time of two hours 04.38 seconds to shatter the previous record of 2:05.39 set by Kenya’s Moses Mosop last year.

The first three men across the line all went under the old mark and all were from Ethiopia, ending Kenya’s run of nine consecutive winners in the Windy City. Feyisa Lilesa was second in 2:04.52 while Tilahun Regassa was third in 2:05.27.

Atsede Baysa completed an Ethiopian double by winning the women’s race in a thrilling sprint finish with Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo.

Baysa crossed the line just inches ahead of Jeptoo with winning in an official time of 2:22.03, one second ahead of Jeptoo.

Kenya’s Lucy Kabuu was third while Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova was fourth after bidding for an unprecedented fourth straight victory in the race, one of the five World Marathon Majors.

The cool conditions were perfect for fast running as the elite runners led the massive field of around 45,000 entrants along the Chicago lakefront and through the city’s neighborhoods.

Kebede won the London Marathon two years ago and almost won Chicago as well but was run down in the last 400m by the late Samuel Wanjiru.

“I don’t believe it,” Kebede said in a televised interview. “This has been my goal, 2:04, so I just pushed and pushed and pushed.”