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When a U.S. swimmer sank to the bottom of the pool, her coach jumped in to save her

Team USA coach Andrea Fuentes swims toward Anita Alvarez, who sank to the the bottom of the pool Wednesday during the women's solo free artistic swimming finals at the Budapest 2022 World Aquatics Championships.
Oli Scarff
/
AFP via Getty Images
Team USA coach Andrea Fuentes swims toward Anita Alvarez, who sank to the the bottom of the pool Wednesday during the women's solo free artistic swimming finals at the Budapest 2022 World Aquatics Championships.

Updated June 23, 2022 at 1:32 PM ET

U.S. artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez was finishing her routine in the solo free final at the World Aquatics Championships on Wednesday when the two-time Olympian suddenly sank to the bottom of the pool, unconscious.

Team USA coach Andrea Fuentes immediately took action, diving into the water. Fuentes — who won Olympic and world medals for her native Spain — sprinted to reach Alvarez, hugged her from behind and kicked off of the pool floor, sending them toward the surface.

"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," Fuentes said according to El Pais, citing an interview with a Spanish radio station.

"I saw how she was sinking and I swam as fast as I could," Fuentes added. "I did the fastest freedive of my life, faster than when I was preparing for the Olympics."

The two were then helped to the side of the pool, where Alvarez was placed onto a stretcher.

The scary situation and dramatic rescue prompted an outpouring of concern and admiration for the coach's quick thinking. Fuentes extended her thanks on Thursday, saying in a posting on the team's Facebook page that Alvarez is feeling much better, with normal vital signs and oxygen and sugar levels.

What Alvarez experienced is similar to what athletes in other high-endurance sports sometimes go through, Fuentes said.

"Our sport is no different than others, just in a pool, we push through limits and sometimes we find them," she said.

In Budapest, Alvarez, 25, has competed in seven events — four preliminary swims and three finals — across six days. She's also up to compete in Friday's free team final — but USA Artistic Swimming says the question of whether she'll swim in that event "will be determined by Anita and expert medical staff."

Team USA swimmer Anita Alvarez is brought to the surface by coach Andrea Fuentes. "Our sport is no different than others," Fuentes said, "just in a pool, we push through limits and sometimes we find them."
Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Team USA swimmer Anita Alvarez is brought to the surface by coach Andrea Fuentes. "Our sport is no different than others," Fuentes said, "just in a pool, we push through limits and sometimes we find them."

Alvarez is a core member of the U.S. artistic swimming squad. She competed for Team USA in Rio and Tokyo; in 2021, she was named USA Artistic Swimming's athlete of the year.

Alvarez has fainted in the pool before — in fact, when it happened at last summer's Olympic qualifiers in Barcelona, it was Fuentes who saved her. Similar to this week, Alvarez was completing a grueling workload. She later said she was affected by a lack of rest and conditions at the pool.

"I honestly thought I was asleep," Alvarez said after that ordeal. "I started hearing people saying, 'It's going to be OK.' I thought, 'Stop telling me that! I'm trying to sleep.' Then I realized that no, I was still in the pool."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.