Johannesburg - Elroy Gelant put up a gutsy performance, and while he struggled in the latter stages, he held on to finish 20th in the senior men's 12km race at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on Sunday.
Gelant started well, bursting to the front of the field after the gun, which was fired twice following an unusual false start at the biennial event.
The 26-year-old South African stayed with the lead group for the first half, and seemed on target for a best ever finish by a South African - Shadrack Hoff and Stephen Mokoka have finished 15th in the past - in the gruelling six-lap men's event at the world championships.
He faded in the second half, however, as Kenyan Japhet Korir broke clear on the last of six laps to win the race by six seconds from defending champion Imane Merga of Ethiopia. Eritrean Teklemariam Medhin was third a further three seconds behind.
Ethiopia won the team event, with the first four athletes from each country to count, and the United States clinched a surprise silver medal. The SA men finished 12th.
Tumisang Monnatlala, who was 19th in the junior men's 8km race, was the only other member of an otherwise disappointing SA team, which struggled in the freezing conditions, to finish among the top 40 in any of the four individual races. He led the national junior quartet to 14th position overall.
Lebo Phalula was 53rd in the senior women's 8km race, finishing nearly two minutes behind Kenyan gold medallist Emily Chebet.
The SA team trailed home in 14th position, with Kenya grabbing the gold medal.
Glenrose Xaba was the first South African across the line in the junior women's 6km event, in 45th spot, and the national team took 12th place.