Coach saves swimmer who fainted at world championship: ‘The lifeguards were paralyzed’

Andrea Fuentes, a Spanish Olympic medalist who dove in for the rescue fully clothed, has criticized members of the organization for their slow response

Anita Alvarez Mundiales natacion
Andrea Fuentes swims to rescue Anita Álvarez this Wednesday in Budapest.OLI SCARFF (AFP)

The American artistic swimmer Anita Álvarez on Wednesday featured in the most dramatic moment of the 19th FINA World Championships being held in Budapest, Hungary. The athlete was completing her solo free final when she lost consciousness and sank to the bottom of the pool. Her coach, Andrea Fuentes, dove into the water fully clothed to pull her out while medical assistance arrived.

The 25-year-old swimmer was pulled out of the pool and taken out of the enclosure on a stretcher. Minutes later, the US team reported on their social media that Álvarez was doing fine and out of danger. But her coach has been critical of the slow reaction by first responders.

Hours after the incident, Fuentes gave an interview to a Spanish radio program, El Larguero, in which she explained that this is not the first time that Álvarez has suffered a similar episode. “We athletes look for the limit of the body and sometimes we find it,” she said. “I saw that the lifeguards were not jumping into the water because they were paralyzed. I was shouting at them from the other side to get into the water, now! I saw them looking dumbfounded, so I jumped into the water and straight towards her. I saw how she was sinking and I swam as fast as I could. I did the fastest freedive of my life, faster than when I was preparing for the Olympics.”

Anita Alvarez is carried on a stretcher after collapsing during the solo free final of the artistic swimming at the 19th FINA World Championships,
Anita Alvarez is carried on a stretcher after collapsing during the solo free final of the artistic swimming at the 19th FINA World Championships, Anna Szilagyi (AP)

Fuentes, whose quick reaction proved essential, is the most successful athlete in the history of Spanish synchronized swimming, a winner of three Olympic silvers and one bronze, 13 World Cup medals, and 11 medals in European Championships. After her retirement from the pools in 2013, she began training athletes and is currently the US senior national team head coach.

“I was giving it all I could, and my shirt felt like it weighed 20 kilos,” said Fuentes. “When I got to her, I saw the lifeguard swimming towards us at his own pace. I grabbed her [Alvarez] and pulled her out, but I could see she wasn’t breathing and her jaw was clenched and super hard. I slapped her twice and shouted: “Anita, breathe! And she wasn’t breathing.”

“The lifeguard was keeping her face-up. In first aid they teach you that when someone is not breathing you have to turn them on their side, so I turned her head because the lifeguard was just looking out of it. I nearly had to rescue them both because he [the lifeguard] was not a good swimmer. I understand that I am an Olympic athlete and I can swim faster. He wanted to do his job, but I wanted to get her out as soon as possible and he was weighing me down.”

The coach’s complaints also extended to the medical services at the World Cup. “I don’t know if it was their first time because they kept trying to put masks on her and she kept crying, asking them to leave her alone. In the end I had to fight with them a little bit. It was as if they were hysterical,” explained Fuentes.

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