“It’s been a long year,” says Anita Alvarez (New York, 1996), sitting in a chair in her hotel in Budapest, on the right bank of the Danube, a few hundred meters from the pool in which she drowned herself unconscious on Wednesday then complete her performance in the free solo finale, in an incident that made her a popular character on Good Morning America and other television programs in the United States. “In February I broke my leg, in March I had surgery, and in May I competed again because I was determined to compete in this World Championships…” she says. A storm of naivety, fear, courage and pride shines in his black eyes.
Ask. How did it start?
Answer. My mother was a student synchronized swimmer and was my first coach. I grew up watching her workout and spent the early years of my life imitating everything adults did in the pool. Over time, I began to swim under the program of my club, in Buffalo, a town in the state of New York, where everything is very close. There is a great Olympic culture in my family. My maternal grandfather was a hockey referee at the Winter Olympics.
P. Do you think people are aware of the effort that synchronists put in?
R. As with any sport, we push our bodies to their limits, and sometimes just a little. People do not realize this, because the image of harmony and happiness is clogged. Smiling with makeup. These little things hide how demanding it is. When the training is over, we feel like we are dying. We can’t even move. People don’t realize how common these fainting spells are. I got a lot of attention because it happened to me at the World Championships. But in this sport, swimmers are fading away every day. This doesn’t just happen to me.
P. Did you realize you’ve reached your limit?
R. No. I just felt like I was throwing everything into a puddle. In the last drawing, where I have to say goodbye by raising my hand, I remember thinking, “Press that hand! Don’t give up now! Give it your all until the last second!” In the past, I felt like I was fading away. This time I think I was very mentally connected to my role, living the moment so intensely that I really enjoyed my performance. Keep going, keep going… Sometimes you don’t feel pain until you stop. It’s like athletics. I like running. Sometimes you are running and the moment you stop you feel the impact. In this routine, I felt great, tired as always, but enjoyed it. And when I felt that I could finally afford to relax, everything turned black. I don’t remember anything else.
P. What did you think when you saw the photos of Andrea Fuentes being rescued?
R. At first they shocked me. I didn’t expect something like this to be posted. But then I took it easy. I didn’t want to be pessimistic about it. Now I think photos are beautiful in a way. Seeing me down there in the water, so peaceful, so still, and seeing Andrea come down with her arm outstretched, trying to reach me like a superhero… Sometimes the most peaceful place on earth is underwater: when you’re sitting at the bottom of the pool in silence. You feel that you do not weigh, you are with yourself. I love it. Sometimes I need this moment. And in the photographs, it all looks very natural, although it is very difficult to lift a person from the bottom of the pool and bring him to the surface. Especially when you’re diving ten feet in your street deadlift clothes. Andrea said this morning that she had lumbago!
P. Do you want to swim again?
R. I rested a lot, all night and all day. My body feels completely normal. This is what has already happened to me. You rest and return to the water the next day. You must do it in such a way that you do not load your head with fear. The doctors examined me. I feel like my body can handle it and it’s all in my mind. I want to finish this competition, which has been the best in the United States for a long time. I am very happy with my solo and now I don’t want to miss my commitment to my team in the free practice final. I want to end with my head held high. I want my colleagues to feel they can trust me and that makes us stronger.
P. What did he learn from Andrea?
R. As a child, we followed her when she swam, and when we found out that she would train us, we were simply stunned. She did not disappoint us either as a coach or as a person. She doesn’t just want us to be successful athletes. He wants us to become better people.
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