As the American artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez sank slowly to the bottom of the pool at the world championships in Budapest on Wednesday, her coach Andrea Fuentes quickly scanned the pool deck and made a split-second decision: She dived in to save her.
Alvarez, a 25-year-old from upstate New York, had lost consciousness at the end of her solo routine at the event, creating a potentially life-threatening situation as her motionless body drifted below the surface.
“I jumped into the water again because I saw that no one, no lifeguard, was jumping in,” Fuentes, a four-time Olympic medalist from Spain, told the Spanish newspaper Marca. “I got a little scared because she wasn’t breathing.”
Fuentes said Alvarez, who was treated by medical staff, had gone about two minutes without breathing as water filled her lungs. Doctors had “checked all vitals and everything is normal: heart rate, oxygen, sugar levels, blood pressure, etc.,” Fuentes said in an update posted to the Instagram account of U.S.A. Artistic Swimming, the sport’s American governing body.
Fuentes was hailed for her quick thinking, but she knew what to do because she had done it before. At an Olympic qualifying event last year in Spain, Alvarez similarly lost consciousness at the end of a routine with her pairs partner, Lindi Schroeder. As she did on Wednesday, Fuentes dived into the pool fully clothed and, with Schroeder’s help, pulled Alvarez back above the water.
On Wednesday, Fuentes, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, saved Alvarez again. After returning Alvarez to the pool deck, where she received medical treatment and was placed on a stretcher, Fuentes told reporters that Alvarez was “fine” and that she would be re-evaluated after some rest. She did not rule out having her returning for the team event later this week.
Alvarez, a two-time Olympian, finished seventh in the solo free event on Wednesday. At the 2016 Rio Games, she finished ninth in the duet event, and she placed 13th in the competition at the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Games last summer in Japan. She is competing in the world championships for the fourth time.
“We sometimes forget that this happens in other high-endurance sports,” Fuentes said in the U.S.A. Artistic Swimming statement. “Marathon, cycling, cross-country … we all have seen images where some athletes don’t make it to the finish line and others help them to get there. Our sport is no different than others, just in a pool, we push through limits and sometimes we find them.”
Fuentes reported that “Anita feels good now and the doctors also say she is OK.”
“Tomorrow she will rest all day and will decide with the doctor if she can swim free team finals or not,” Fuentes said.
Alvarez had done the same at the Olympic event last year in Spain, returning to the pool only hours after fainting to perform her next routine.
She said at the time that she had previously fainted during strenuous training sessions, but not in a competition. Alvarez told WIVB-TV, a television station in Buffalo, that she thought the demanding schedule and emotional toll of the events had caused her to faint.
“The way the schedule was set up, I was the only athlete competing in both events that day and again the next morning,” Alvarez said. “Besides the physical and emotional aspect, we’re in this tight, closed pool that’s very hot. The chlorine is very strong.”
Amanda Holpuch contributed reporting.