Photographer captures dramatic underwater rescue of unconscious swimmer Anita Alvarez

An underwater photographer has captured the dramatic rescue of Team USA swimmer Anita Alvarez, who fainted during her routine.

Alvarez, 25, was performing in the artistic swimming solo free final at the 2022 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Budapest.

At the end of her swim on Wednesday (local time) she became unconscious and sank to the bottom of the pool.

Swimmer Anita Alvarez performs a dance in the pool.
Alvarez was performing in the women’s solo free final.(Reuters: Lisa Leutner)

Head coach Andrea Fuentes dived in, fully clothed, to rescue Alvarez.

“It was a good scare,” Fuentes told Spanish sports newspaper Macra.

A woman floats unconscious near the surface of a pool.
Alvarez fainted at the end of her routine.(Reuters: Oli Scarff)

The underwater rescue was captured by AFP photographer Oli Scarff.

A woman swims towards another woman who is unconscious at the bottom of a pool.
Team USA head coach Andrea Fuentes dived in to save Alvarez.(AFP: Oli Scarff)
A woman swims out to grab another unconscious woman at the bottom of a pool.
Fuentes reaches out to grab Alvarez.(AFP: Oli Scarff)
A woman, carrying an unconscious woman, swims from the bottom of a pool to the surface.
Fuentes pushes off the bottom of the pool and swims Alvarez to safety.(AFP: Oli Scarff)
A woman, carrying an unconscious woman, swims from the bottom of a pool to the surface.
Fuentes reaches the surface with Alvarez.(AFP: Oli Scarff)

Fuentes brought Alvarez to the surface, where another swimmer helped her take Alvarez to the edge of the pool.

Alvarez was lifted out of the water and onto a stretcher to receive medical attention.

Two people hold up an unconscious woman in a pool.
Another swimmer comes to help Fuentes.(AFP: Peter Kohalmi)
An underwater view of two people holding up an unconscious swimmer at the surface of a pool.
Fuentes and another swimmer keep Alvarez’s head above the surface of the water.(AFP: Oli Scarff)
An unconscious woman is pulled from a swimming pool by three people and lifted onto a stretcher.
Alvarez is pulled from the water to receive medical attention.(Reuters: Lisa Leutner)

In a statement, Fuentes said Alvarez had a medical emergency but was OK.

“The doctors checked all vitals and everything is normal: heart rate, oxygen, sugar levels, blood pressure, etc … all is okay,” Fuentes said.

“We sometimes forget that this happens in other high-endurance sports.

“Our sport is no different than 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 will decide with the doctor if she can swim free team finals or not. Thank you for all of your well wishes for Anita.” 

Spectators cry and hold each other as they watch a woman pulled unconscious from the pool.
Fans and teammates watch on as Alvarez is pulled from the water unconscious.(AP: Anna Szilagyi)

This is not the first time Alvarez has had a medical emergency in the pool.

She briefly lost consciousness at the end of a routine during an Olympic qualification event in Barcelona in June 2021.

It was Fuentes again who dived in to rescue her.

Alvarez came seventh on Wednesday with a score of 87.6333.

The women’s solo free was won by Japan’s Yukiko Inui, who scored 95.3667.


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