As 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 decision in a split second: 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 immobile body drifted below the surface.
“I jumped into the water again because I saw that no one, no lifeguard, jumped in,” Fuentes, a former Olympic medalist from Spain, told the Spanish newspaper Marca. “I got a little scared because she was not breathing.”
Fuentes said Alvarez, who was being treated by medical staff, had been walking for about two minutes without breathing as water filled her lungs. Doctors had “checked all vital things, and everything is normal: heart rate, oxygen, sugar levels, blood pressure, etc.,” Fuentes said in an update posted on the Instagram account of the United States Artistic Swimming, the sport’s 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 last year in Spain, Alvarez similarly lost consciousness at the end of a routine with his partner, Lindi Schroeder. As she did on Thursday, Fuentes dived into the pool fully clothed and, with Schroeder’s help, pulled Alvarez back across the water.
On Thursday, Fuentes, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, rescued Alvarez again. After returning Alvarez to the pool deck, where she received medical treatment and was laid on a stretcher, Fuente’s reporters told Alvarez that he was “fine” and would be re-evaluated after some rest. She did not rule out that she would return to the team event later in the week.
“We sometimes forget that this happens in other sports with high endurance,” Fuentes said in the U.S. statement on artistic swimming. “Marathon, cycling, cross-country skiing… we have all seen pictures where some athletes do not reach the finish line and others help them get there. Our sport is no different from others, just in a pool we push boundaries and sometimes we find them. ”
Fuentes reported that “Anita is fine now and the doctors also say she’s okay.”
“Tomorrow she will rest all day and will decide with the doctor whether 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 just hours after she fainted to perform her next routine.
Alvarez is a two-time Olympian. She finished in ninth place in the duet event at the Rio Games 2016 and finished 13th in the competition at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Games last summer in Japan. She is participating in the World Championships for the fourth time.