Johannesburg - The national 4x100m freestyle relay team were hampered by a slow final leg as South Africa's FINA World Championships campaign got under way in earnest in Shanghai, China on Sunday.
The relay quartet finished sixth on the opening day of the swimming events in the pool, and Cameron van der Burgh showed the first real signs of a medal prospect in the men's 100m breaststroke semi-finals.
South Africa were only seventh fastest in qualifying for the freestyle relay final, but Graeme Moore gave them a great start, bursting off the blocks to settle in third after the first leg.
Darian Townsend, who formed part of the quartet that won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, closed the gap on the second leg, overtaking the United States to leave only Australia ahead at the halfway mark.
Gideon Louw managed to hold their position throughout the third leg, but Leith Shankland produced the slowest performance of the race as France, the US, Italy and Russia sailed past on the final leg.
Van der Burgh won the first 100m breaststroke semi-final in 1:00.07, but the second heat was much quicker and the South African was only fifth fastest of the qualifiers.
Alexander Dale Oen, who won the second semi-final, was quickest with 59.37.
Roland Schoeman was ninth fastest in the men's 50m butterfly semi-finals in 23.48, falling 0.06 seconds short of a place in the final.
Brazilian Cesar Cielo, who was cleared of a doping offence on the eve of the games, was the fastest of the qualifiers in 23.19.
South Africans did not fare well in the other disciplines in the first week of the global championships.
Chad Ho produced the best performance in the open water swimming events, finishing 20th in the men's 10km race.
Ho was 34 seconds behind winner Spyros Gianniotis of Greece, while countryman Troy Prinsloo placed 38th.
Amputee Natalie du Toit was 39th in the women's 10km race, with Jessica Roux taking 45th position.
Earlier in the week, Prinsloo was 21st in the men's 5km event, only 21 seconds behind gold medallist Thomas Lurz of Germany, with team-mate Danie Marais taking 32nd.
Nicole Brits was 33rd in the women's 5km race, finishing five places ahead of Roux.
South Africa's water polo teams were left to battle for the wooden spoons after finishing bottom of their groups in the first round.
The women's squad lost to Italy and China, and while they managed a draw against Cuba, they were set to face Uzbekistan on Monday in a playoff for 15th and 16th place.
After losing all three group matches - against Italy, Germany and the US - the men's side were gearing up for a battle with China on Tuesday with hopes of avoiding last place.
The synchronised swimming team, which consisted of 12 members, struggled in every division.
They secured their best position in the technical team category, finishing 22nd in the heats, but failed to make the finals in a single event.