Anita Alvarez, Synchro Swimmer Who Blacked Out at Worlds, Returns to Competition

American artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez returned to competition in March, just nine months after passing out and sinking to the bottom of the pool during last summer’s World Championships.

The incident made international headlines because Alvarez’s coach had to jump in the water to rescue her. While major competitions like the World Championships have lifeguards, the line between the long submersion periods required for the sport, and actual danger to the athletes, is often unclear, with lifeguards sometimes being instructed that they cannot perform any rescues unless cleared to do so by judges.

In an exclusive interview with NPR last month, Alvarez spoke at length for the first time since the incident.

That was the second time that Alvarez had passed out in a competition – she did so at a last-chance qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics in June 2021 as well.

As part of her return, Alvarez underwent extensive testing. That includes on October 14, 2022, where the goal was to exceed the physical stress of the Budapest World Championships while being carefully observed and wearing monitors.

Her coach, four-time Olympic medalist Andrea Fuentes, described that harrowing day, where the goal was basically to push Alvarez not just to her limits, but beyond her limits – if she passed out, the hope was, the monitors and doctors would give a clue to what happened.

The testing involved repeating the Worlds regimine over and over again, sprinting 25 meters above the water and 25 meters below the water, pushing harder and harder with her teammates urging her on from the deck.

Eventually, the doctor said that she had been pushed far enough – and that her load was surpassing Navy SEALs’.

That testing and others ruled out neurological and cardiovascular issues, and resulted in her receiving a waiver to compete from World Aquatics (former FINA) on March 6.

In the interview, Alvarez talked about the public reaction to the incident, which came largely from a public that doesn’t understand the sport.

“I’ve been working my whole career to make the sport more popular,” Alvarez said, “and now people are telling me that I’m a bad example.

She says that she saw the comments that the incident made the sport look bad, that it would keep parents from putting the kids in the sport, and that it was hard to hear. She also pointed out that marathon runners pass out often, and that snowboarders crack their skulls, and that these risks are inherent in many sports.

“You take every comment and start to overthink it. ‘How can I make it right?’ The answer is: You can’t. Not everyone will understand. Not everyone will be happy.”

But she also acknowledged that it helped people recognize that the sport, long the butt of jokes, is very difficult.

Alvarez also said that she watched the coverage and reactions to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who went into cardiac arrest during an NFL game in January. She says that watching how he dealt with the response helped her when coping with her own trauma.

“I followed his story and how he dealt with that afterwards. It was interesting to watch a situation from the outside, seeing the media response, and how he handled it. Seeing it in the real world, in different situations, kind of helps me understand my situation a little bit better.”

Shortly after that interview, Alvarez participated in the World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup stop in Markham, Canada. That was the first meet of the four meet series which wraps up with a Super Cup in June. As part of the American team, she earned bronze in the acrobatic final behind Ukraine and Japan and silver in the mixed team technical final behind Japan.

Watch a video of her acrobatic performance with Team USA here:

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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