Two-time Olympics swimmer Anita Alvarez fainted and sank to the bottom of the pool during Wednesday’s World Aquatics Championships in Budapest. Her coach on Team USA, Andrea Fuentes, dived in to save her, scooping her limp body up and rushing her back to the water’s surface.
Alvarez received urgent medical care after the rescue.
Following the incident, Fuentes accused lifeguards at the venue of not acting fast enough in the face of danger.
“It was a big scare,” Fuentes told Spain’s Marca newspaper. “I had to jump in because the lifeguards weren’t doing it.”
Alvarez was competing in the women’s solo free final when she stopped breathing, sparking widespread concern among her teammates and spectators at the venue and on social media.
In an Instagram update Wednesday, the official USA artistic swimming account shared a statement from Fuentes who said Alvarez had been thoroughly checked by doctors and was recovering. She thanked people for their well wishes and said the athlete was “feeling good now.”
“All is okay,” she wrote, before highlighting the risk that swimmers, like other athletes, face while performing.
“We have all seen images where some athletes do not make it to the finish line and others help them get there. Our sport is no different than others, just in a pool,” she said. “We push through limits and sometimes we find them.”
Alvarez, from Tonawanda, N.Y., began artistic swimming, more broadly known as synchronized swimming until 2017, at the age of 5. She is now considered a skilled veteran and member of Team USA, competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and at the Tokyo Games 2020, which was rescheduled to 2021 amid the pandemic.
Wednesday marked the second time that Alvarez, 25, has fainted while swimming. It also marks the second time Fuentes has jumped in to save her.
In Barcelona last year, the swimmer fainted during an Olympics qualifying event, prompting her coach to dive in and pull her from the water. It remains unclear what caused Alvarez to collapse but the sport often requires swimmers to hold their breath.
“Coming up for air only occasionally, artistic swimmers need of clean air when they have the opportunity to breathe,” reads information on the team’s official website.
During the coronavirus pandemic, athletes around the world were forced to find alternative training methods, including the U.S. artistic swimming team who were forced to train solo, at times standing on their heads in their bedrooms — perfecting their leg movements — even as pools nationwide were closed down.
Fuentes told The Washington Post that the team turned to virtual group workouts, sometimes joined by other international swimmers. Alvarez, she said, taught the group a TikTok dance.
It remains unclear if Alvarez will take part in Friday’s team event. She is due to be assessed by doctors Thursday.