Manila: A Filipino surfer hailed as a hero for saving a fellow competitor during a Southeast Asia Games contest won a gold medal on Sunday, even beating the rival he rescued on his way to glory.
Roger Casugay became an online sensation after he lept from his board to help Indonesian Arip Nurhidayat, who had got into difficulty in choppy waters in a SEA Games longboard qualifying round in the northern Philippines.
The 25-year-old managed to reach Nurhidayat after he lost his board in the swell, and the pair rode back to shore together on Casugay's board.
"He wasn't drowning but he was floating away," Casugay told AFP by phone, adding it was possible the big waves could have pulled the Indonesian out to sea beyond rescue.
Casugay, from the northern town of Bacnotan near the surfing venue in La Union, explained how event organisers stopped the competition after Nurhidayat got into trouble.
"He thanked me and then said sorry," the Filipino rider said.
"I told him not to say sorry because that's the way it is. There is no way of knowing what will happen."
Many thought Casugay might have blown his nailed-on gold medal after the incident on Friday, but the Filipino beat Nurhidayat in the pair's semi-final clash on Sunday.
Asked if he thought the Indonesian threw the duel in gratitude for saving his life, Casugay said he beat him fair and square.
"He said he is not used to big waves," he said.
But the rest of Casugay's journey to the top of the podium was hardly plain sailing.
In the gold medal contest against fellow Filipino Rogelio Esquivel he damaged his board, and briefly lost the lead.
Casugay called up a spare however, and managed to overhaul his countryman to take first place.
Back on dry land, his bravery and selflessness generated thousands of comments on social media.
"Not all heroes wear capes," one Facebook user wrote. "This one has a surfboard!"