* Kipchoge slices one minute, 18 seconds off record
* Kenyan clocks two hours, one minute, 39 seconds
* Cements place among all-time greats (Updates with Kenyan president congratulations)
BERLIN, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Kenya's Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge pulverised the marathon world record with a blistering run on Sunday, slicing a staggering 78 seconds off the previous best to land the one major running crown that had eluded him.
The 33-year-old, widely seen as the greatest marathon runner of the modern era, ran an official time of two hours, one minute and 39 seconds on a sunny day along the flat inner-city course, smashing Dennis Kimetto's previous record that had stood since 2014.
Fellow Kenyan Gladys Cherono won the women's race with a course record and best time of the year of 2:18:11, leaving Ethiopians Ruti Aga and pre-race favourite Tirunesh Dibaba in second and third place respectively.
Kipchoge's run was the biggest improvement on the marathon mark since Australian Derek Clayton took almost two and a half minutes off the record in 1967.
"I lack words to describe this day," said a beaming Kipchoge, a former world champion over 5,000 metres and marathon gold medallist at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. "I am really grateful, happy to smash the world record."
"They say you can miss it twice but not a third time. So I want to thank everyone who has helped me," said Kipchoge, who had won in Berlin in 2015 and 2017.
"I am just so incredibly happy to have finally run the world record as I never stopped having belief in myself. Running a sub two hours two minutes was simply amazing and I believe I can still go below that with such good conditions."
Kipchoge, who last year took part in the Nike Breaking Two project, where he ran two hours and 25 seconds with the aid of "illegal" in and out pacemakers, started off at a sizzling pace.
After quickly shaking off his biggest rival, Wilson Kipsang, and with virtually no wind, it was clear Kipchoge's only opponent would be the clock.
His three pacemakers were pushed to the limit to keep the tempo high as Kipchoge dipped well below world-record time at the halfway mark.
Yet even after the last pacemaker peeled off after 25 kilometres, Kipchoge showed no sign of slowing as thousands of Berliners lining the streets egged him on.
Berlin has now been the stage for the last six men's world records over the distance.
"It was hard running alone, but I was confident. I ran my own race, I trusted my trainers, my programme and my coach. That's what pushed me in the last kilometres," Kipchoge said, adding that he could have gone even faster had the pacemakers stayed with him up to the 30-km mark.
Kipchoge kept up the pace to sprint through the Brandenburg Gate and complete a world record race that cements his reputation as one of the greatest runners of all time.
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta congratulated him minutes after his win as well as second-placed Amos Kipruto and Kipsang, who completed the African nation's podium sweep.
"Congratulations Eliud Kipchoge for breaking the world record at the Berlin marathon 2018. I also congratulate his compatriots Amos Kipruto & Wilson Kipsang for going out valiantly to bring a 1-2-3 victory for #TeamKenya. You are our heroes. Kenya is proud of you," Kenyatta wrote on Twitter.
Kipchoge has won 11 out of the 12 marathons he has raced in, including at the Olympics.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Toby Davis