Durban - Claude Moshiywa says he was awestruck by the support as he entered the closing stages of the Comrades Marathon, on his way to a convincing victory in the 88th edition of the race from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.
The 39-year-old broke a two decade foreign stranglehold on the "up" run when he stormed home in five hours, 32 minutes, 08 seconds (5:32:08) to secure a historic victory.
"I can't describe the feeling," said Moshiywa.
GALLERY: 88th Comrades Marathon
"I was so excited when I reached the final stretch and it means a lot to have done it after so many years." The last South African to win the men's "up" run was Jetman Msutu in 1992.
Moshiywa, who was third in 2011 and ninth last year, took the lead from countryman Johannes Kekana after four hours on the road, and never looked back in the warm KwaZulu-Natal conditions.
Zimbabwean Moses Njodzi, who won the Two Oceans Marathon in 2006, emerged as the first real contender, opening a one-and-a-half minute lead at the halfway mark, as he charged through Drummond in two hours, 40 minutes.
Moshiywa, Kekana, Zimbabwean Mike Fokoroni and little known Rufus Photo then moved clear as part of a four-man group up the Inchanga climb, early in the second half, before Photo, Fokoroni and Kekana eventually fell by the wayside.
Jonas Buud of Sweden produced a strong finish to take second place, although he was over nine minutes back, while Mpesela Ntlosoeu of Lesotho finished in third position ahead of defending champion Ludwick Mamabolo (5:45.48).
Mamabolo was found not guilty on doping charges a month before the race, after a long-running process that disrupted his build-up to the race.
"I'm very happy to make the top 10 considering the amount of pressure I've been under," Mamabolo said.
"Everybody said I won't be able to perform and wrote me off, but I did my best and am very happy with this.
"I regard myself as a champion and I'm extremely happy that a South African has won." Defending "up" run champion Stephen Muzhingi, bidding for a fourth title, grabbed the last gold medal in 10th position and was satisfied with his showing after a low-key build-up to the race, which was hampered by a calf injury.
"I've been running in pain and to do as well as I did is very satisfying," Muzhingi said.
"I think I put up a good fight to try and defend my title."
The women's race, meanwhile, was again dominated by Russian twins Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva - the former extending her dominance with an eighth victory in 6:27.08.
"The first few kilometres were very tough because it was very hot," Elena said.
"But my sister helped me through and I'm happy to have won again." Olesya finished in 6:28.06, with fellow Russian Irina Antropova taking third place in 6:44.36.
Novice Charne Bosman, the first South African woman home, was passed by Scotland's Joasia Zakrzewski in the finishing straight.
Zakrzewski grabbed fourth place in a sprint finish and Bosman was fifth.
Gold medal winners in the 2012 Comrades Marathon, a 'down' run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, on Sunday:
1 Ludwick Mamabolo (RSA) 5:31:03, 2 Bongmusa Mthembu (RSA) 5:32:40,
3 Leboka Noto (LES) 5:33:07, 4 Marko Mambo (ZIM) 5:33:44, 5 Leonid
Shvetsov (RUS) 5:35:12, 6 Stephen Muzhingi (ZIM) 5:38:02, 7 Lephetesang
Adoro (LES) 5:38:05, 8 Gift Kehele (RSA) 5:38:39, 9 Claude Moshiywa (RSA) 5:39:10, 10 Petros Sosibo (RSA) 5:40:13
Elena Nurgalieva (RUS) 6:07:12, 2.Eleanor Greenwook (UK) 6:08:24, 3
Marina Zhalybina (RUS) 6:30:54, 4 Joasia Zakrzewski (UK) 6:33:41, 5
Devon Crosby-Helms (US) 6:39:59, 6 Kerry Koen (RSA) 6:45:44, 7 Irina Vishneyskaya (RUS) 6:47:19, 8 Natalia Volgina (RUS) 6:51:06, 9 Melanie van Rooyen (RSA) 6:52:36, 10 Julanie Basson (RSA) 7:00:45.