American swimmer Anita Alvarez was rescued from the bottom of the pool by her coach at the FINA World Aquatic Championships in Budapest, Hungary, after she lost consciousness.
Coach Andrea Fuentes jumped into the pool after she saw the 25-year-old artistic swimmer sink to the bottom at the end of her routine in the women’s solo free event on Wednesday.
Alvarez was doing “really good” Thursday and medical tests showed everything was “under control,” Fuentes told CNN.
Fuentes, a four-time Olympic medalist in synchronized swimming, lifted Alvarez to the surface before helping bring her to the edge of the pool.
Alvarez, who competed at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, received medical attention beside the pool and was subsequently carried off in a stretcher.
It was the second time Fuentes has had to rescue Alvarez. She leapt into the pool during an Olympic qualification event last year and pulled her to safety, along with the American’s swim partner, Lindi Schroeder.
‘I was not going to wait’
The coach told CNN that while the event might have seemed strange to the world, it’s not all that uncommon in the sport, where swimmers regularly hold their breath for extended periods of time aiming to improve their lung capacity, but highlighted those practices never go against medical advice they’re given.
Toward the end of Alvarez’s routine on Wednesday, Fuentes noticed the swimmer’s feet seemed to be more pale than normal, which caught her attention. And when she saw Alvarez going down instead of upward to breathe, she dove in.
“I was already paying attention, and then I saw her going down,” Fuentes said. “I didn’t even ask myself if I should go or not, I just thought that I was not going to wait.”
When asked whether she felt the lifeguards did not react quickly enough in the situation, Fuentes said the problem was easier for her to spot quickly because “I know Anita very well and I know the sport very well.”
“They did their job, I did mine,” Fuentes added.
The International Swimming Federation (FINA), the sport’s governing body, did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for a comment on the speed of the rescue.
But in a statement to CNN on Thursday, FINA said it had been in contact with Alvarez, her team and medical staff following what it described as a “medical emergency.”
“Ms. Alvarez was immediately treated by a medical team in the venue and is in good health,” the statement read.
Oli Scarff, who captured the stunning pictures of the rescue with the help of a remote robotic camera underwater, told CNN he was looking at his computer toward the end of Alvarez’s routine when he heard some commotion. He looked at the screen of what the robotic camera was capturing and saw the swimmer at the bottom of the pool.
“It was kind of a shocking thing to see because as soon as I looked back down at the robotic camera I had this kind of clear view of the scene while everyone in the arena was watching it through the surface of the water,” the photographer told CNN.
“It went immediately from photographing these beautiful pictures of this amazing athlete performing … to then just in a heartbeat, now we’re photographing a near-death situation,” Scarff said. “I was quite shaken, actually.”
Swimmer wants to compete Friday
In a statement on the US Artistic Swimming Instagram page, Fuentes said Alvarez would rest on Thursday and consult her doctor to see whether she would be fit to compete in the swim-free team finals, which are scheduled to take place Friday, according to FINA.
“Anita is okay – the doctors checked all vitals and everything is normal: heart rate, oxygen, sugar levels, blood pressure, etc … all is okay,” Fuentes said in the statement.
“We sometimes forget that this happens in other high-endurance sports. 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,” Fuentes added.
“Our sport is no different than others, just in a pool, we push through limits and sometimes we find them. Anita feels good now and the doctors also say she is okay.”
Fuentes told CNN the swimmer “really wants” to compete Friday and doctors have cleared her to do so.
Alvarez, who was the USA’s 2021 Artistic Swimming Athlete of the Year, finished seventh. Japan’s Yukiko Inui claimed gold, while Ukraine’s Marta Fiedina and Greece’s Evangelia Platanioti came second and third respectively.
Born in Kenmore, New York, Alvarez competed at the 2012 US Olympic trials when she was 14. Four years later, she made the team, finishing ninth in the duet at Rio 2016. She was 13th in the same event at Tokyo 2020.
CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.