BUDAPEST • American artistic swimmer Anita Alvarez was dramatically rescued from the bottom of the pool by her coach, after fainting in a distressing scene at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest.
Andrea Fuentes leapt in to rescue Alvarez, who had sunk to the bottom and was not breathing after passing out at the conclusion of her routine during Wednesday night's solo free final.
"It was a big scare. I had to jump in because the lifeguards weren't doing it," Fuentes said, according to Spanish newspaper Marca.
Fuentes, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, dived in to drag Alvarez to the surface before being assisted to get the stricken athlete to the edge of the pool.
"I was scared because I saw she wasn't breathing, but now she is doing very well," added Fuentes, a four-time Olympic artistic swimming medallist.
Alvarez was taken on a stretcher to the pool's medical centre, with teammates and fans appearing to be in shock poolside, with some in tears consoling each other.
"It was very intense," Fuentes later told AS newspaper. "I think she was at least two minutes without breathing because her lungs were full of water. But she vomited the water, coughed and that was it, but it was a big scare."
Fuentes was critical of the slow reaction of the lifeguards.
"When I saw her sinking, I looked at the rescuers, but I saw that they were stunned. They didn't react," she said.
"I thought, 'Will you jump in now?' My reflexes kicked in quickly. I didn't overthink it, I jumped. I think it was the craziest and fastest free dive I've ever done in my career. I picked her up and lifted her, obviously she was heavy, it wasn't easy."
Alvarez, 25, was in her third world championships but has passed out in competition before. She suffered a similar reaction during an Olympic qualifier in Barcelona last year.
The team released a statement from Fuentes, saying Alvarez had fainted due to the effort expended during the routine.
"Anita is okay - the doctors checked all vitals and everything is normal: heart rate, oxygen, sugar levels, blood pressure," Fuentes said in the statement.
"We sometimes forget that this happens in other high-endurance sports. Marathon, cycling, cross country... we all have 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 than others, just in a pool, we push through limits... Anita feels good now and the doctors also say that she is OK."
Alvarez is in the United States team for the team free final today - her last event of these championships - but has yet to decide if she would return to the pool.
"She will decide if she feels up to compete tomorrow if she is cleared medically," said Alyssa Jacobs, a spokesman for the team, yesterday.