Cape Town — The South African ultra-distance team were all smiles on Tuesday, after returning from the IAU 50km World Championships which were held in Brasov, Romania last week
Lungile Gongqa secured the silver medal in the men's individual race, clocking 2:48:26 as he carried the South African squad to gold in the team competition, with three athletes finishing in the top six.
"This was a tough race for me as it was my first, but I'm happy with my performance and I aim to improve my second position next time I'm selected for the same race.
"I must say it's a good feeling," said Gongqa, after the team's arrival at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg.
Bongmusa Mthembu, the men's captain, who took sixth place, said: "I think we performed very well on the global stage and it's great to come back to our country to see how happy the fans are.
"The support we've had from our federation, Athletics South Africa has also motivated us and going forward I think the next generation will now be able to see that they can also conquer challenges."
In the women's race, Yolande Maclean finished 17th in 3:28:47, leading the SA squad to fifth place in the team competition. Salome Cooper, the SA women's captain, admitted it was not their best day on the road, but she believed they have the ability to step on the podium in future.
"Soon into the race we could see Tanith (Maxwell) was taking strain and after two laps I was getting sick, and we realised the day wasn't going to turn in our favour, so we just had to keep going and finish the event," Cooper said.
"We didn't come back to South Africa with the results we were hoping for and the conditions were not in our favour, but we are proud to say we did our best. Moving forward I think there is a lot of potential for the ladies.
"We definitely have female athletes, who can go there and win events similar to this, but this is a great start, and I'm sure we'll soon be up there with our men's team, taking individual and team prizes."
Nick Bester, who travelled with the team as the national coach, was delighted with the squad's all-round performance.
"The team did very well. Everyone in the race knew the South Africans were the danger," Bester said. "To be world champions is great and for the women's team to finish fifth, is also great.
"South Africa is seen as the leading country in the world of ultra-distance running because of the infrastructure of the sport here, which gives the athletes the opportunity to compete as professional athletes."
James Moloi, the chairman of the ASA road running commission, was equally satisfied with the results.
"We are very excited with the performance of the team," Moloi said. "Last year they did very well at the 100km World Championships and it's the same guys who relatively brought us the gold here.
"We are now going to plan ahead. Next year is the 100km World Championships again and ASA has plans for them."