Pietermaritzburg - Hungary were completely dominant on the opening day of the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships on Thursday, but the South African duo of Sifiso "Alex" Masina and Christie Mackenzie won the hearts of the local fans at Camps Drift.
Hungary claimed no less than seven medals from the four medal events on the opening day's action with an almost perfect four golds and three silvers, but it was the two bronze medals for the South African team that had the local fans screaming with delight.
The final event of the day, the junior men's race, was won by Hungarian Ádám Varga in the most dominant display of power-paddling seen on Day 1.
Masina looked to be out of contention for a medal when three paddlers broke away from the start and he was left off the pace in fourth.
However, Varga's decision to paddle away from his rivals by himself meant the never-say-day South African was able to first haul in Briton Charlie Smith, and then Varga’s compatriot István Lukács.
That set up a three-man group to fight for silver and bronze.
As the trio wound up for the final sprint Smith powered away and his silver medal was safe from 200m out, while Masina was able to hold off the Hungarian and claim a historic bronze.
The race was an emotional roller coaster for the South African as he bravely kept fighting for position throughout.
"They were just too fast for me off the start," he said shortly after the finish. "But I have been doing a lot of distance and not a lot of speed so I was able to catch up again.
"After the start, when they were all ahead of me I thought I was going to be fourth. But then when the English guy dropped off the lead group I knew his pace must drop and I worked hard to catch him. Then the Hungarian also dropped off so me and the English guy worked hard together and caught him.
"I only realised I would get the medal about 100m from the end. I thought the Hungarian was going to get me at the finish but I just hung on. It is incredible. This means so much for me, it means a lot - a lot."
Masina's bronze was matched by compatriot Mackenzie in the junior women's race, the first event of the day, although she was somewhat gifted the medal.
The Hungarian duo of Zsóka Csikós and Dorina Fekete set the tone when they broke away on the first lap and were left to fight for the gold and silver medals between them. Csikós was too strong at the finish and Fekete could not come over her wake in the end sprint.
Behind the two Hungarians, it was a case of good luck and bad luck for the South African pair of Mackenzie cousins.
After Caitlin Mackenzie was knocked out of her boat in a clash of paddles at the start, her cousin Christie claimed what ended up being an easy bronze medal.
The medal was confirmed when Italian Teresa Isotta fell out and blocked Mackenzie's rivals at the put-in after the final portage, allowing the South African to enjoy the shouts of support from the vocal local supporters as she cruised across the line in third.
The U23 women's race was virtually a carbon copy of the girls' race with Zsófia Czéllai-Vörös and Sára Anna Mihalik setting up the Hungarian dominance early as they came off the first portage with a lead. From there, the two simply worked as a team to paddle off into the distance.
At the final turn about 500m from the finish, Mihalik, who recently competed in the U23 World Sprint Championships, unleashed an awesome kick and powered away to open up a deceptively big lead by the time they crossed the line.
Mihalik put her victory down to hard work since the sprint championships.
"This the first time I have won a world championship, I am so happy. I put in a lot of work to get this win. I was in the U23 World Sprint Championships about four week ago so I did not have a lot of time, but I put in a lot of work over the past few weeks and hard work always pays off."
Rounding off the podium was Briton Alex Lane who broke away from the chasing group on the final portage and held on over the final kilometre to claim the bronze.
The boys C1 race saw Sebestyén Simon and Balázs Adolf dominate from the start, and it was soon evident they would add to Hungary's growing collection of gold and silver medals.
When Adolf opened up his finish sprint with 200m to go, his compatriot had no answer and drifted over the line in a distant second. Duarte Silva from Portugal claimed the bronze.
In the non-medal junior women's C1 event, Giada Bragato of Hungary finished 15 seconds ahead of Frenchman Mathilde Troncin with Poland's Maja Szajdek third.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS - ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships Day One
K1 juniors women1 Zsóka Csikós (HUN) 1:35:45,39
2 Dorina Fekete (HUN) 1:35:45,95
3 Christie Mackenzie (RSA) 1:37:30,19
4 Nora Rey (ESP) 1:38:04,33
5 Erin Blanch (AUS) 1:38:05,63
11 Caitlin Mackenzie (RSA) 1:42:39,89
K1 women under 23
1 Sára Anna Mihalik (HUN) 1:49:43,12
2 Zsófia Czéllai-Vörös (HUN) 1:50:11,90
3 Alexandra Lane (GBR) 1:52:15,92
7 Kyeta Purchase (RSA) 1:58:25,87
8 Kerry Segal (RSA) 1:58:27,37
Race 5 – K1 men junior
1 Ádám Varga (HUN) 1: 41:35,66
2 Charlie Smith (GBR) 1:44:17,03
3 Sifiso “Alex" Masina (RSA) 1:44:20,89
6 Ulvard Hart (RSA) 1:47:10,85