DAEGU, South Korea--Even a tumble late in the race couldn't slow down Edna Kiplagat. Even if it had, a gold medal for Kenya was all but a sure thing.
Kiplagat led Priscah Jeptoo and Sharon Cherop in a Kenyan sweep of the women's marathon, the opening event of the IAAF world championships here on a humid Saturday morning.
In a disappointing day, Japan's highest finisher, Yukiko Akaba, placed fifth.
Kiplagat, the 2010 New York City Marathon champion, led a team spurt that broke open a large pack at 33 kilometers, then pulled away from her compatriots with three kilometers to go on to win in 2 hours 28 minutes 43 seconds.
"At 33 kilometers, I tried to run at the front of the group and when I looked back two times, I found the group was not following me," Kiplagat said.
"I had in mind that if I pushed more and run as fast as I can, I might win the race."
Jeptoo finished second in 2:29:00, with Cherop holding off a late charge by Ethiopia's Bezunesh Bekele to take the bronze by seven seconds in 2:29.14 and complete the first ever marathon sweep at a world championships.
Akaba led Japan's contingent with a time of 2:29:35.
"A little bit more and I would have won a medal," said Akaba, who has the consolation of earning 10,000 dollars in prize money. "I was aiming for a medal, so it's disappointing.
"The spurt at 33 kilometers was much faster than I expected and I couldn't keep up."
Yoshimi Ozaki, the silver medalist at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, slogged home in 18th in 2:32:31.
"In Berlin, at 35 kilometers I still had plenty left, but this time I didn't have it," Ozaki said.
Azusa Nojiri, Ozaki's Daichi Seimei teammate who early on took over the pace-setting duties in the race, finished one place behind her in 2:33:42.
Remi Nakazato placed 10th in 2:30:52, while Mai Ito was 22nd in 2:35:16.
With plenty in reserve after a slow pace took the lead group through the halfway point in a pedestrian 1:16:46, the Kenyans turned the race into a three-woman showdown soon after the 35-kilometer mark.
All that needed to be decided was who got which medal--although an incident at the 38-kilometer water station nearly changed the dynamics.
Kiplagat, cutting in front of Cherop to get a water bottle, clipped her foot and tumbled hard to the ground.
"I didn't know if I was going to get up and pick it up again," said Kiplagat, a mother of two who is married to her coach. "I felt I was running good again. This was a surprise."
In an impressive act of team solidarity, Cherop turned back to make sure Kiplagat was alright.
"I was so annoyed because it was not my fault, but after seeing that my friend has fallen down, I had to slow down and wait for her," she said.
Meanwhile, in first-day action on the track, pole vaulter Daichi Sawano barely squeezed through qualifying, while two other Japan record-holders and national champions failed to make the cut in their events.
Sawano was one of five vaulters to tie for 12th place by clearing 5.50 meters on their first attempt--if just one had cleared the next height of 5.60, none of the others would have advanced.
Minori Hayakari failed to advance in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase after placing eighth in her heat in 10:05.34, while Masato Yokota's sixth-place finish in 1:47.60 in the first round of the men's 800 left him short of a semifinal berth.