Leading a superb all-round effort by the South African men’s team, former standard marathon specialist Lungile Gongqa earned the silver medal on Sunday, ending the nation’s nine-year medal drought at the IAU 50km World Championships in Brasov.
After the majority of the SA team stayed in touch with a large lead group in the first half, they managed to hold on in the latter stages to secure gold in the team competition.
Gongqa, an Olympic marathon runner and former winner of the 56km Two Oceans ultra-marathon, crossed the line in 2:48:26, less than a minute off the pace of Spain’s Iraitz Arrospide, who won the race in 2:47:42.
It was the national team’s first medal at the 50km road running spectacle since Sandile Ngunuza took second spot on the podium in Galway in 2010.
Edward Mothibi, who won the 87km Comrades Marathon earlier this year, closed his season with another solid result, taking fifth position in 2:49:49.
Wrapping up the team title, former 100km World Championships silver medallist and three-time Comrades winner Bongmusa Mthembu delivered a typically consistent performance by grabbing sixth place in 2:50:23.
While the national men’s team produced a dominant effort, however, the SA women’s squad struggled in the absence of some of the country’s top athletes.
Yolande Maclean, one of the nation’s most experienced ultra-distance specialists, was the only SA woman to finish in the top 30, taking 17th position in 3:28:47.
She was well behind the leaders, however, with Alyson Dixon of Great Britain coasting to a convincing victory in 3:07:20.