The American synchronized swimmer who passed out in the water during the World Championships is considering returning to competition just 48 hours after the concerning incident.
Anita Alvarez, 25, was competing in the final of the women’s solo free event when she fell unconscious and sank to the bottom of the pool in Budapest on Wednesday.
Her coach Andrea Fuentes leapt into the water and dragged her back to safety with the help of another swimmer waiting to compete. Alvarez regained consciousness soon after being rescued from the pool, received immediate first aid and is reportedly recovering well.
Coach Fuentes told Good Morning America that when she saw that Alvarez failed to surface after her routine, she immediately knew something was wrong and leaped into action.
‘When you finish, you really want to breathe because you hold your breath for a long time and the first thing you want to do is breathe,’ the coach recalled. ‘And I saw she was going down, so I was like immediately knew that something was happening so I went as far as I could and I reach her and grab her to the surface and tried to make her breathe.’
After pulling Alvarez from the pool, Fuentes administered CPR until medics and the team doctor took over. ‘Heart rate was fine, blood pressure fine, oxygen, glucose, everything was good so I knew she was okay.’
This is actually the second time that Fuentes has rescued Alvarez from a fainting spell during her routine, following a similar incident last year during the Olympics qualifying event in Barcelona.
‘The sport is extremely hard. Sometimes people pass out. Our job is to discover our limits, that’s what we do as athletes,’ said Fuentes.
Fuentes added in in Instagram post: ‘it was her best performance ever, she just pushed through her limits and she found them.’
Fainting spells, also known as shallow water blackouts, are not uncommon in synchronized swimming, a sport that requires intensive physical exertion while athletes repeatedly hold their breath for minutes at a time.
A statement from USA Artistic Swimming said that it was possible that Alvarez would return to competition on Friday for the free team final, pending expert medical evaluation.
Anita Alvarez lies at the bottom of the pool in the Budapest World Championships after fainting mid competition yesterday
Alvarez’s coach Andrea Fuentes said she had to leap in because ‘the lifeguards weren’t doing it’
Anita Alvarez is rescued by her heroic coach Andrea Fuentes after losing consciousness and sinking to the bottom of the pool at the World Championships in Budapest on Thursday
Another swimmer jumped in to help Fuentes after she got Alvarez’s head above the water
A member of Team USA also jumped in to help drag Alvarez to the surface with the lifeguards accused of not doing anything to help
Alvarez (centre) regained consciousness soon after being rescued and is recovering well
It is not known what caused Alvarez to faint but synchronised swimmers often have to hold their breath for a long time underwater
It’s not the first time the swimmer has fainted in the pool – she did so in Barcelona last year, and Fuentes also saved her on that occasion
The Olympic athlete gained consciousness shortly after she was dragged from the bottom of the pool by her heroic coach
The American swim team were left visibly shaken by the horrific near miss
Members of the US swim team watching the event were seen shouting as they watched on in horror as Alvarez fainted in the pool at the end of her routine
How shallow water blackouts from prolonged breath-holding can kill
Fainting underwater from prolonged breath-holding is a phenomenon also known as ‘shallow water blackout’.
It can affect competitive swimmers, free divers, and snorkelers, and even highly physically fit swimmers can be at risk.
Underwater blackouts occur when low oxygen to the brain triggers a fainting spell. Without immediate rescue, the risk of drowning is high.
To prevent shallow water blackout:
Fuentes, speaking on radio in Spanish yesterday, said she realised something was wrong when Alvarez ‘went down and didn’t react’ rather than coming up after her routine. ‘When a swimmer finishes, the first thing they want to do is breathe,’ she said.
The coach said she motioned to lifeguards for help but they did not see her, ‘so I jumped in myself. I went there as fast as I could. I went in even faster than when I was going for Olympic medals.’
Fuentes said Alvarez ‘was not breathing’ when she reached her but was revived and checked for signs of damage after the terrifying incident. ‘Oxygen, glucose, heart, blood pressure, everything’s fine,’ she said, adding that Alvarez will rest today before returning to the pool because ‘she has to swim the final’.
‘It was a big scare. I had to jump in because the lifeguards weren’t doing it,’ Fuentes said afterwards.
‘I was scared because I saw she wasn’t breathing, but now she is doing very well. Anita is doing much better.’
The American swim team was visibly distressed by the horrific incident and were seen consoling each other by the pool afterwards.
The coach said in an interview on radio in Spanish: ‘We have looked at many things and the pressure is good. We’ve done a CT scan on his brain, she’s fine.
‘It has been, as you know, sometimes we see it happing in sport, cyclists, marathons in athletics vomit many times. She told me why?
‘I said, as athletes, we dedicate ourselves to discovering where the limit is and sometimes we find it, and today you have found it, you have gone so far that your body said, girl, don’t ask me anything else.’
This is the second time Alvarez has fainted in a pool during a competition, with Fuentes again coming to her aid during the Olympics qualifying event in Barcelona (pictured)
Coach Fuentes dived into the pool in Barcelona to save Anita Alvarez after she fainted during the Olympic qualifying last year
Coach Fuentes and one of Alvarez’s teammates help the 25-year-old synchronised swimmer out of the water after she fainted while performing a routine
She added: ‘In our sport it happens sometimes, when we go without breathing for a long time, with very high pulses and sometimes the oxygen not getting where it has to get, we faint.
‘But it is that we spend many hours in sync. What happens is, we do exercises to endure as much as possible for the competition, and today it happened during the competition.’
USA Artistic Swimming said in a statement: ‘Watching yesterday’s medical emergency of 2x Olympian Anita Alvarez and subsequent rescue by coach Andrea Fuentes was heartbreaking for our community.
‘She gave an exceptional solo performance and competed brilliantly in four preliminary and three final competitions across six days.
‘Anita has been evaluated by medical staff and will continue to be monitored. She is feeling much better and using today to rest.
‘Whether or not she will swim in the free team final on Friday, June 24th will be determined by Anita and expert medical staff.’
Alvarez is seen moments before fainting as she competed in the Women Solo Free Final at the Budapest World Championships
The synchronised swimmer, who competed in the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics, is seen on the floor at the start of her routine
Alvarez initially appeared well as she performed her routine but the problems started when she went underwater
Fuentes also saved Alvarez when she fainted during an event in Barcelona in 2021 (pictured)
The 26-year-old, pictured alongside her coach Fuentes (left), was born in Buffalo, New York, and began synchronised swimming after graduating high school
Fuentes said in a post that doctors had checked all of Alvarez’s vital signs and she ‘feels good’ after the scare in the pool
Why do people faint?
There can be many different reasons why someone might faint and briefly lose consciousness.
Common causes include standing up too quickly, which could be a sign of low blood pressure, not eating or drinking enough, being too hot, being in severe pain, a sudden fear or drugs and alcohol.
It is caused by a lack of blood to the brain because of a drop in pressure.
Most episodes only last a few seconds or minutes and are not typically a cause for concern.
But regular fainting can be a sign of a heart problem or a neurological condition, which should be checked by a doctor.
Fuentes summed up the situation by posting a statement on Instagram.
‘Anita is okay – the doctors checked all vitals and everything is normal: heart rate, oxygen, sugar levels, blood pressure, etc… all is okay,’ she wrote.
‘We sometimes forget that this happens in other high-endurance sports. Marathon, cycling, cross country… we have all seen images where some athletes don’t make it to the finish line and others help them to get there.
‘Our sport is no different to 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. Tomorrow she will rest all day and decide with the doctor if she can swim free team finals or not.’
It’s not the first time Alvarez has passed out in the pool.
Last year the 25-year-old fainted during an Olympics qualifying event in Barcelona, where she was also rescued by Fuentes.
‘Unfortunately I’ve seen it happen to her before – never in competition, though,’ Alvarez’s mother Karen said at the time.
‘I knew right away. On their last element, I could tell something was up. It was hard to watch, definitely.’
Alvarez finished seventh in the event, which was won by Japan’s Yukiko Inui.
Most synchronised swimming routines require athletes to hold their breath for no more than one minute at a time.
In 2010, Olympic medal winner Fran Crippen died in an open water swimming event in the UAE.
The long distance champion was aged 26 when he competed in the 10,000m event.
It is the second time Anita Alvarez (left) has fainted in a pool during a competition, with Fuentes again coming to her aid during the Olympics qualifying event in Barcelona
Last year 25-year-old Alvarez (right, in USA team kit) fainted during an Olympics qualifying event in Barcelona, where she was also rescued by Fuentes
Alvarez (pictured) regained consciousness soon after being rescued from the pool, received immediate first aid and is reportedly recovering well
Fuentes (left) released a statement saying Alvarez (right) has recovered so well she could compete in another event on Saturday
Last year the 25-year-old fainted during an Olympics qualifying event in Barcelona, where she was also rescued by Fuentes
The American swim team was visibly distressed by the horrific incident and were seen consoling each other by the pool afterwards
Fellow swimmers only noticed he was missing when they reached the finish line, sparking a desperate search to find him.
His body was found two hours after the end of the race by deep sea divers 500 yards from the shore.
Other swimmers at the time said heat may have been a factor, with water temperature at 30C and competitors reporting heat-related symptoms after completing the race.
A report found Crippen died of a ‘cardiac abnormality’.
In 2015, a Dartmouth College swimmer died at a YMCA pool after making an attempt to complete four laps underwater without surfacing to breathe.
Tate Ramsden, 21, of Nashville, Tennessee, was pronounced dead at the Sarasota pool in Florida after lifeguards and emergency medical personnel could not revive him, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office incident report.
Ramsden was at the pool with his sister, uncle and a cousin.
‘Tate had been swimming laps in the pool for some time and I was told he had swam approximately 4,000 yards before practicing his underwater swimming techniques,’ Officer Douglas Stidham wrote in the report. ‘It is believed he was likely attempting to complete a ‘100’ which is four laps across the pool without surfacing for air.’
At some point, Ramsden’s sister and cousin noticed that he was not moving underwater, and they alerted lifeguards who pulled him out of the water, Stidham wrote.
Water and blood came pouring from Ramsden’s nose and mouth throughout the attempts to revive him, according to the report.