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Haile Gebrselassie celebrates setting the marathon world record Sunday in Berlin. ((Michael Sohn/Associated Press))

Haile Gebrselassie broke his own marathon world record on Sunday, becoming the first runner to finish under two hours, 4 minutes.

The Ethiopian clocked 2:03:59 to win his third straight Berlin Marathon, beating the mark of 2:04:26 he set last year over the same flat course. He also became the first runner to win the race three times.

"Today, I'm so, so, so happy. Everything was perfect today,"Gebrselassie said.

Running under clear, sunny skies in mild temperature, Gebrselassie paced himself well and controlled the race from the start.

The 35-year-old Gebrselassie was way out front as passed through the Brandenburg Gate and ran to the finish line to applause from the crowd lining the route.

Gebrselassie said his training in the buildup to the race was hindered by an injury.

"I had a small calf muscle problem and I stopped for a week, and then I started again a week ago," he said. "Then today I had, you know, some doubts … but it was really very good."

The Ethiopian praised Berlin and its spectators in helping him break his 26th world record.

"Before I came here, I knew I can do something here in Berlin, because since I started running Berlin is my lucky city," Gebrselassie said.

He improved last year's winning time by nearly half a minute.

Berlin's flat course often provides for fast times.

Five years ago, Paul Tergat of Kenya ran 2:04:55, becoming the first man to go under 2:05.

Gebrselassie first ran in Berlin in 2006 and clocked 2:05:56, before breaking the world record last year. In three years, he has improved nearly two minutes on the course.

The Ethiopian chose to skip the Olympic marathon in Beijing because of the city's pollution. However, he finished sixth in the 10,000 meters, a race he won in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.

Irina Mikitenko of Germany won the women's race in 2:19:19, improving her best by over four minutes to clock the seventh fastest time in history for a woman.

She became the fourth fastest woman marathon runner of all time, with only Paula Radcliffe, Catherine Ndereba and Mizuki Noguchi ahead of her. Mikitenko broke the national record and became the first German woman to run under 2:20.

Askale Magarsa of Ethiopia was second in 2:21:31 and Helena Kirop of Kenya finished third in 2:25:01. Both ran personal bests.