As American artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez slowly sank to the bottom of the pool on Wednesday at the World Championships in Budapest, 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 floated beneath the surface.
“I jumped back into the water because I saw that no one, not a lifeguard, jumped in,” Fuentes, a former Olympic medalist from Spain, told Marca. “I got a little scared because she wasn’t breathing.”
Fuentes said Alvarez, who was being treated by medical personnel, had gone breathless 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 on the Instagram account of USA Artistic Swimming, the sport’s US governing body.
Fuentes was praised for her quick thinking, but she knew what to do because she had done it before. At an Olympic qualifying event in Spain last year, Alvarez similarly lost consciousness at the end of a routine with her partner, Lindi Schroeder. As she did on Wednesday, Fuentes dove into the pool fully clothed and, with Schroeder’s help, pulled Alvarez back out of the water.
On Wednesday, Fuentes, dressed in shorts and T-shirt, saved Alvarez again. After Alvarez was returned to the pool deck, where she received medical treatment and was placed on a stretcher, Fuentes told reporters that Alvarez was “well” and would be re-evaluated after some rest. She didn’t rule out returning for the team event later this week.
“We sometimes forget that this happens in other high-endurance sports,” Fuentes said in the US Artistic Swimming statement. “Marathon, cycling, cross country… we’ve all seen images where some athletes fail to finish and others help them get there. Our sport is no different from any other, only in a pool do we push boundaries and sometimes we find them.”
Fuentes reported that “Anita is now feeling well and the doctors say she is fine too.”
“Tomorrow she will rest all day and decide with the doctor whether she can swim the free team final or not,” Fuentes said.
Alvarez had done the same at the Olympic event in Spain last year, returning to the pool just hours after passing out to perform her next routine.
Alvarez is a two-time Olympian. She finished ninth in the duet event at the 2016 Rio Games and 13th in the competition at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games in Japan last summer. She is participating in the world championships for the fourth time.