MOSCOW -- It is said by sport executives at the highest level, almost as if it is a prayer refrain offered in complete sanctification and utter devotion, that athletes are at the heart of everything they do. What to make -- once again -- of the women's marathon at the track and field world championships? The race, the first showcase event of the 2013 championships, started at 2 in the afternoon. The temperature at the start: in the mid-80s. Under an unrelenting sun, with no clouds in a high blue sky, it stayed hot throughout. The humidity: over 60 percent.
Forty-six women finished. Twenty-three did not. That makes for easy math: half as many did not even finish the race as did.
That's not a marathon. That's survival.
Edna Kiplagat of Kenya won the ordeal, in 2:25.44, becoming the first female back-to-back marathon world championship winner. Valeria Straneo of Italy finished second, 14-hundredths back. Japan's Kayoko Fukushi took third, in 2:27.45.
American Deena Kastor, the Athens 2004 Olympic Games bronze medalist, finished ninth Saturday in 2:36.12. Hours after the race, she would post to her Twitter account that it was the "hardest marathon ever," the word "ever" in all capital letters, adding that she couldn't walk on one foot and now had a "blood blister on my lip (of all places) and a horrible sunburn." She added this hashtag: #MyDermoWillHateMe
Why did this race start at such an absurd hour, in such ridiculous conditions? Consider this possibility: 2 in the afternoon in Moscow is 7 in the evening in Tokyo -- prime time Saturday evening viewing. And TV rights fees can be worth a lot of money, it's true.
On the one hand, what race organizers have asked the best female marathoners to run through in recent years at these world championships ought to forever put to rest any argument over whether women are tough enough to handle any and everything. On the other, going forward, organizers need a cold dash of common sense before something dreadful -- like, fatal -- happens.
The 2011 women's world championships marathon in Daegu, South Korea, went off with the temperature at 79 and humidity at 72 percent. At the 2007 race, in Osaka, Japan, the temperature was a searing 90; that race won by Kenya's Catherine Ndereba in 2:30.37, the slowest-ever world championship, hardly a surprise, seven minutes slower than Ndereba ran to win the 2003 marathon.
"I was just trying to endure the race, to get to the finish," Fukushi said after Saturday's third-place effort.
"The time of the race is unusual because I am used to run most of my races in the morning," Kiplagat said.
Chris Turner, a spokesman for track and field's governing body, the IAAF, pointed out that in Daegu and Osaka, some of those who did not finish -- colloquially known as DNFs -- had to be hospitalized because of the brutal conditions. "Here," he pointed out, "none of the DNFs had to be hospitalized."
It should be self-evident that "did not need to be hospitalized" should not be the baseline of running a world-class marathon.
The marathon served as the warm-up -- literally -- to the only final of the night on the Luzhniki Stadium track, Britain's Mo Farah's victory in the men's 10,000, and to Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt's first appearance in the heats of the men's 100 meters.
Bolt eased through in 10.07 seconds, the seventh-fastest time of the day.
"I didn't try to run too fast," he said later. "I was trying to work on my technique to get it right. Tomorrow, I will put more speed into it."
The semifinals and finals of the men's 100 go down Sunday. Bolt will be the huge favorite. Fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake, who won the 100 in 2011 when Bolt false-started, is injured. And American Tyson Gay is out because of a positive doping test.
In the men's 10k, in what proved to be a relatively slow and tactical race, Farah and Ethiopia's Ibrahim Jeilan dueled down the homestretch, just as they did in 2011 in Daegu.
Two years ago, Farah didn't have enough finishing speed. Last year in London, he proved he certainly did, winning not only the 10 but the 5,000 meters as well.
This year, he won by two steps, in 27:21.72. Jeilan crossed in 27:22.23.
Farah said later, "I was thinking on the home straight, 'Not again, not again, not again.' "
The victory now gives Farah the full set -- world and Olympic titles in the 5 and 10k. The only other man to win all four is Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele.
Farah is due to run the 5k next Friday.
Kenya's Paul Tanui finished third. American Galen Rupp, Farah's training partner and the silver medalist in London, placed fourth.
"I just didn't kick," Rupp said. "It's not that complicated."
In the mens' decathlon, Americans finished Day One 1-2.
Ashton Eaton, the London gold medalist, ran the 400 meters in 46.02, the fastest 400 ever at a worlds. That gave him a lead of 4,502 to 4,493 after five events over 20-year-old Gunnar Nixon.
Two-time defending champ Trey Hardee dropped out with a hamstring injury. He failed to clear a height in the high jump.
"I'm out there having fun -- no pressure," Nixon said.