American swimmer Anita Alvarez is lucky to be alive after she fainted while competing at the World Championships and had to be rescued by her coach in stunning scenes on Wednesday.
The synchronised swimmer, 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.
Her coach Andrea Fuentes leapt into the water and dragged her back to safety with the help of an unnamed man, while lifeguards watched on.
Alvarez regained consciousness soon after being rescued from the pool, received immediate first aid and is reportedly recovering well.
Amazingly, it 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.