U.S. Artistic Swimmer Anita Alvarez Recalls Last Moments Before Fainting in Pool

American artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez recalled the last moments before she lost consciousness at the end of her free solo final during Wednesday’s World Championships, sinking to the bottom of the pool in Budapest, Hungary. Thankfully, her coach, Andrea Fuentes, jumped in fully-clothed and dragged her to safety. 

“I remember feeling like it was a really great performance,” said Alvarez, who placed 7th. “Like, my best one by far and not only just how I performed but just that I was actually enjoying it and really living in the moment, too. So, because of that I feel really happy and really proud.

“And then at the end, I do remember like the very last arm I did, I gave like, it’s such a simple small arm, but I was like, ‘Give everything until the very end.’ And I did that, and then I remember going down and just being like, kind of like, ‘Uh oh, I don’t feel too great.’ And that’s literally that last thing I remember actually.”

Fuentes said Alvarez went about two minutes without breathing before medical personnel helped her regain consciousness. The U.S. artistic team attributed the loss of consciousness to how much effort she expended during her routine.

It wasn’t the first time this situation had unfolded, either, as Fuentes had previously saved Alvarez from drowning during an Olympic qualification event last year in Spain. The 25-year-old Alvarez grew up “idolizing” Fuentes, a four-time Olympic medalist from Spain. 

“I mean I say this all the time to her and to other people, just so grateful to have her as a coach,” Alvarez said of Fuentes. “When I found out she was coming to be our coach, it was like, I didn’t believe it.”

Alvarez said she made the decision to jump in once she noticed lifeguards not acting quickly. Bela Merkely, head of the Hungarian medical service, told local media that staff were abiding by “extremely strict FINA rules” that “determine when lifeguards can intervene.”

“Under the rules, members of the judges panel delegated by FINA may jump into the pool to signal that a competition program may be interrupted due to any incident,” Merkely said. “No such signal was received from the judges during Wednesday’s final, and no matter if a coach signals to them they are not allowed to intervene. After the coach jumped into the pool at her own risk, the local lifeguards, sensing the danger… decided to intervene immediately, so the American competitor finally got out of the pool with their help.”

Team officials said that Alvarez could still take part in the team free final on Friday. The last time she was rescued after fainting, Alvarez returned to competition just hours later.  

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5 months ago

I wonder if it’s different because lifeguards don’t know what to expect from routines, and maybe it can be hard to tell the difference between a swimmer being submerged for a long period of time as part of the routine as opposed to the swimmer being actually in trouble. My guess is that lifeguards have intervened unnecessarily and interrupted a safe performance, and that how the rule came about. It seems incredibly and obviously dangers to not err on the side of caution though.

5 months ago

Lifeguards are the new cops

5 months ago

I know nothing about artistic swimming, but what kind of BS rule is this? Dunno what the law in Hungary is, but where I live, lifeguards have a legal duty to try to save lives, no matter what the FINA rules might state.

Reply to  Swammer
5 months ago

Yeah, that rule definitely needs to be reconsidered. As far as I know, in the USA the lifeguards are the ultimate authority when it comes to safety concerns. Sometimes at club meets, they do an announcement at the beginning to make sure everyone is aware of that.

Reply to  Swammer
5 months ago

it’s not a rule, it’s a lie and a lame excuse. A lifeguard is there to save lives, when they are on duty, they got the order to do whatever is needed to protect people

Paul Milward
Reply to  Swammer
5 months ago

I know something about swimming based upon her body position in the pool, with limp arms and sagging head on the bottom, warrants immediate rescue. my LG instructor, “If in doubt go” Eric Emery Huntington State Beach. Eric Emery instructed Life Guard training for the California State Lifeguards.

5 months ago

Wait, what? The lifeguards cannot intervene? I’m not understanding what a lifeguards job is then. Peak irony, FINA!

5 months ago

Wait a minute. The lifeguards were supposed to wait for a judge’s permission before saving a swimmer? That doesn’t make sense. Sounds like FINA and its host countries need to work on safety procedures.

Paul Milward
Reply to  AnonymousB
5 months ago

Yes you got that right.

5 months ago

Pool racing- current wisdom is that you should no longer do no breath 25s in practice because of blackout concerns

Artistic swimming- requires extensive breath restriction training in order to complete program moves while the head is entirely submerged for long periods of time.

Is it time to have a discussion about how we can have better safety norms in synchro while still setting high skill and technical standards for elite competition?

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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