As American artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez slowly sank 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 when her motionless body drifted beneath the surface.
“I jumped back in the water because I saw that nobody, not a lifeguard, jumped in,” Fuentes, a former Olympic champion from Spain, told Spanish newspaper Marca. “I was a little scared because she wasn’t breathing.”
Fuentes said Alvarez, who was being treated by medical staff, was not breathing for about two minutes as water filled her lungs. Doctors had “checked all vital signs 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 governing body in America.
Fuentes was celebrated for her quick thinking, but she knew what to do because she’d done it before. At an Olympic qualifying tournament in Spain last year, Alvarez also lost consciousness at the end of a routine with her pair partner Lindi Schroeder. As on Thursday, Fuentes dived fully clothed into the pool and, with Schröder’s help, pulled Alvarez back over the water.
On Thursday, Fuentes again saved Alvarez in shorts and a t-shirt. After Alvarez was returned to the pool deck, where she received medical attention and was placed on a stretcher, Fuentes told reporters that Alvarez was “fine” and that after some rest they would be re-examined. She didn’t rule out returning to the team event later this week.
“Sometimes we forget that this happens in other high-performance sports, too,” Fuentes said in the statement to USA Artistic Swimming. “Marathon, biking, cross country… we’ve all seen images where some athletes don’t make it to the finish line and others help them get there. Our sport is no different than others, only in the pool do we push our limits and sometimes we find them.”
Fuentes reported: “Anita is feeling well now and the doctors also say that she is fine.”
“Tomorrow she will rest all day and decide with the doctor whether she can swim for free in the team final or not,” said Fuentes.
Alvarez had done the same thing at the Olympics in Spain last year, returning to the pool just hours after fainting to perform her next drill.
Alvarez is a two-time Olympic champion. She finished ninth in the duet event at the Rio 2016 Games and finished 13th at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games last summer in Japan. This is her fourth time at the World Cup.