Osaka:She survived a crash, stomach pain and the stultifying torpor hanging over the world championships.
Against the odds, Tirunesh Dibaba rallied from a midway collision involving teammate Mestawat Tufa, hit her stride again and won the 10,000 on Saturday to defend her title from two years ago - with a smile to spare.
On an opening day when all eyes were on the duel between Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay and their predictable advancement in the 100, it was the 21-year-old Ethiopian who captured the imagination.
Dibaba took the lead with a lap to go, kicked for home, and beat Turkey's Elvan Abeylegesse for the gold with a time of 31 minutes, 55.41 seconds. In a race full of surprises, American Kara Goucher took bronze.
"I have never been challenged as much as this," she said. "If it had not been a matter for representing my country, I would have dropped out."
After her tangle with Tufa, Dibaba said her stomach was stinging so much she had to hold her abdomen to dull the pain while she was trying to catch up some 30 meters with the leaders in the pack.
"I didn't think I could catch up," she said.
Now Dibaba will seek to add the 5,000 title for a second long-distance double. If anyone needed more proof Dibaba was special, this was it.
Gay, Powell win second-round heats in 100
Comparatively, the point Powell made in the 100 heats was devoid of drama.
Still, his breezing victory in the second round gave Gay pause for thought. To beat the world record holder, Gay has to come up with an answer and a faster start on Sunday, when the 100 meters final will decide the fastest man at the world championships.
If Gay needs inspiration he only needs to look at the shot put, as unglamorous as the sprint is flashy, where Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson gave the United States a 1-2 finish on Saturday.
Jamaican world record holder Powell burst out of the blocks and eased up barely halfway through his second-round heat and still finished in the best time - 10.01 seconds.
"It was as I expected, nothing else. All is going according to my plans," Powell said.
Even Gay admired his main rival.
"He looked pretty good," Gay admitted "It was kind of impressive."
Once Powell used his strong start, he kept on watching the stadium tv screen, making sure he would not have to use one stride too much in the stifling evening temperature at Nagai Stadium.
After another sprinter jumped the gun in the subsequent heat, Gay struggled with his start on the second attempt and needed to work harder to win it in 10.06.
"If I just execute my start I will be ready for tomorrow," said Gay. "I need to work on my start."
Gay, with the fastest time in the world this year, has his eyes on the gold and Powell's record of 9.77. The semifinal and final are both set for Sunday night.
Hoffa wins shot put gold
The US team got the start it wanted when Hoffa added the outdoor world title to his indoor gold. Defending champion Nelson won a medal for the fourth time in a row, adding to one gold and two silvers.
Hoffa took charge from the start and won with 22.04 meters, beating Nelson by 43 centimeters. Belorussian Andrei Mikhnevich, the 2003 champion, finished with 21.27 meters.
"When I finally won there was just this huge relief," said Hoffa, the season's top thrower.
"To be very honest, Reese flatout beat me," Nelson added.
It was still 30 Celsius late Saturday night in Osaka. In the first event of the nine-day program, Luke Kibet won the men's marathon by the biggest margin - 79 seconds - in the history of the championships.
Although when Kibet, a 24-year-old prison guard from Kenya, hit the tape drenched in sweat in 2 hours, 15 minutes and 59 seconds, he had just won the slowest major championships race at low altitude in 51 years, going back to the Melbourne Olympics.
Mubarak Hassan Shami of Qatar was second in 2:17:18, and Viktor Roethlin of Switzerland took bronze. The marathon is Japan's favorite event and failing to medal was a huge disappointment to the thousands lining Osaka's downtown streets.
"I wanted to get a medal today, the color would not be important," said Tsuyoshi Ogato, who was fifth.
The marathon, which started at 7 am local time and finished in 33 Celsius heat (91F) heat, was the opening event of the championship.
Carolina Kluft was poised to stretch her five-year unbeaten streak and add an unprecedented third straight heptathlon title.
After she beat her personal best in the high jump and equaled her PB in the 100 hurdles, she surged ahead in the next two events - the shot put and 200 meters.
Kluft totaled 4,162 points after 4 of 7 events, holding a big lead over Lyudmila Blonska of Ukraine, the season's top performer who has 4,014. Britain's Kelly Sutherton has 3,989.