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 dove 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 former 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 USA 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 peers partner, Lindi Schroeder. As she did on Thursday, Fuentes dove into the pool fully clothed and, with Schroeder’s help, pulled Alvarez back above the water.
On Thursday, 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 would be re-evaluated after some rest. She did not rule out having her returning for the team event later this week.
“We sometimes forget that this happens in other high-endurance sports,” Fuentes said in the USA 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.
Alvarez is a two-time Olympian. She finished ninth in the duet event at the 2016 Rio Games and placed 13th in the competition at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games last summer in Japan. She is competing in the world championships for the fourth time.