The Athletics Senior and Junior National Teams returned to South Africa, touching down at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday morning after they participated at the Athletics World Cup in London, England and the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.
In London, the Senior side finished seventh in the eight-nation competition hosted by British Athletics, while the Juniors finished sixth, improving from their 42nd placing at the previous edition.
Displaying humility and appreciation, South Africa's four medallists at the Meeting in Tampere last week, have thanked the nation for its support in reaching their goals.
Bagging three gold medals and one bronze, the SA team finished sixth on the medals table, achieving the country's best overall result at the international Junior showpiece since 2004.
Having secured a 400m Hurdles double at the IAAF World U18 Youth Championships in Nairobi, Kenya last year, Sokwakhana “Soks” Zazini and Zeney van der Walt achieved the feat once again.
Zazini covered the men's one-lap final over the barriers in 49.42 seconds, dragging three other athletes under the 50-second barrier.
"The experience I got here was amazing," Zazini said. "I'm very excited to win gold and without my country and people I would not have achieved what I did.
"I would like to thank Athletics South Africa for backing me, all my supporters for always being there and standing up for me whether I lose or win, as well as my teammates for supporting me and the management team who took care of us."
Van der Walt took a convincing victory in the women's contest in 55.34. "It was an amazing experience. To know your country is behind you and backing you all the way, to hear the crowd and just to compete in the green and gold means a lot," Van der Walt said.
"The gold medal also means a lot because I know all the hard work and preparation my coach and I put in has been successful, and it's amazing to know that hard work pays off. You just have to believe, do your best and enjoy everything you do. We are so proud of the whole team."
In the Shot Put Men final, Kayle Blignaut landed the implement at 22.07m to break his own national Junior record (unratified), also stepping on top of the podium.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to be here and compete in these championships," Blignaut said.
"I want to thank my teammates for their support and we're grateful for the gold and bronze medals we got."
High jumper Breyton Poole cleared the bar at 2.23m and while he achieved the same height as the joint gold medallists, he ended with a share for bronze in a tightly contested final.
"The competition was tough, with all of us (top four athletes in the event) finishing on 2.23m," Poole said. "Thanks to Finland for organising a great competition, to ASA for all their support and to my team for helping me get the bronze medal.
"Zeney, Kayle and Soks inspired me to get the bronze medal and it was an amazing event. It was a great experience being here and I'm grateful for all the support back home."
Aleck Skhosana, the President of Athletics South Africa, welcomed the performance of the two teams, saying that each selection served a purpose.
“In London, with all the injuries and absentees because of commitments to the Diamond League, it allowed us an opportunity to expand and test our depth of other elite star athletes. We saw some great performances and some of them led to the podium.
The high quality competition also allowed us to test the readiness of athletes for the CAA African Senior Championships in Asaba, Nigeria in just over two weeks’ time.
“One has to recognise the maturity of our Junior athletes, many of whom are already raising their hands of readiness at Senior competitions. They threw everything they had as a team and as individuals to move South Africa from the previous ranking to a respectable sixth finish overall.
“That is a major achievement and we say thank you to the individual athletes, coaches, management and all support staff.”
Photo Credit: Roger Sedres