Johannesburg - Sports minister Fikile Mbalula has heaped praise on South Africa's university athletes, and provided them with unexpected financial rewards, after the 120-member team returned this week with a record 14 medals from the World Student Games.
The team finished eighth in the overall table with seven gold, three silver and four bronze medals at the biennial event in Kazan, Russia.
Mbalula handed out cheques at a welcoming function for the team on Saturday night. Athletes who won gold medals received R10 000, while those who achieved silver were given R6 000, and those who claimed bronze were rewarded with R3 000.
Relay athletes who bagged medals each received the full incentive, amounting to a total of R156 000 in financial rewards for the medal winners.
Mbalula added that Sport and Recreation SA (SRSA) would provide University Sport SA (USSA) with R500 000 in additional funding.
"You made it into the history books," Mbalula told the athletes after the final members of the team returned to a rousing reception at OR Tambo International.
"We expected 13 medals and you came back with 14, half of which were gold, which is what we like to see.
"We are very proud of you because you did everything you could to fight for your talent, not just for yourselves, but for South Africa."
Tyrone Pretorius, the president of USSA, thanked SRSA for the backing received from government.
"I would like to publicly acknowledge the support we have received from SRSA, and from the Minister, both materially and morally," Pretorius said.
Saturday's function was held in conjunction with the sendoff of the SA team for the Deaflympics which starts in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Thursday.
Pretorius used the opportunity to wish the deaf team well, as they looked to emulate the success of the student squad.
"The feeling of winning these 14 medals as a country is indescribable," Pretorius said.
"Go to Bulgaria and make us proud. I wish you well."