August 19, 2022


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Anita Alvarez: The dangers of elite athletes pushing themselves to the limit - and beyond

Anita Alvarez: The dangers of elite athletes pushing themselves to the limit – and beyond

Anita Alvarez passes out at the bottom of the pool after her FINA World Championships routine. Her knees touch the tiles, her arms are relaxed and her eyes are closed. Later, we learned she wasn’t breathing.

What would have happened if her coach, Andrea Fuentes, had not noticed that the swimmer’s feet looked much paler than usual, which put her on high alert, and what if she had not reacted like lightning by jumping to save her athlete when she saw that the American was sinking instead of getting up to breathe?

Perhaps for those who have never seen artistic swimming, or only do so every four years at the Olympics, the most surprising thing is to hear those involved in the sport talk about how what happened to Alvarez in Budapest is a danger that comes with the sport.

In fact, it was the second time that Fuentes had saved Alvarez. Last year, I jumped into the pool during an Olympic qualification event to pull the 25-year-old to safety.

Fuentes told CNN this week that swimmers hold their breath regularly for extended periods to improve their lung capacity, but he said these practices never went against medical advice.

Former Spain technical swimmer Gemma Mingoal, a three-time Olympic athlete, described feeling a tingling sensation in her face, almost passing out in the pool and giving up her routine for fear of what might happen.

“It’s a very demanding sport,” she told Spain’s Atresmedia. “I always went to the limit. I always got out of there scared when I was competing.”

And that, in essence, is what elite sport is all about. It is about pushing yourself to the limits both physically and mentally; In training, in competition, day after day, year after year, because that’s where the standards are set, in every sport.

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Synchronized swimmers may appear calm dancing in the water. They are poised, smiling, drawing crowds. Heck, there’s even music, makeup, and sequins.

It all seems effortless, but that’s because those who excel always make it seem so. This does not mean that there is no pain before, during or after.

Look under the surface and you will find dangers. Being hit or kicked is common for artistic swimmers who perform in unison within meters of each other, often for up to four minutes. Upside down and holding your breath for long periods of time can also lead to dizziness and blurred vision. Concussion is even a problem, as I mentioned before The New York Times , In what is essentially a contact sport.

“I’ve been an athlete my whole life — 20 years in the pool…Sometimes there’s a little price that’s okay to pay,” Fuentes told CNN.

“And in all sports, if you know any high-performing athletes, it’s part of the beauty – push your limits and grow from them.”

Team USA members interact as medical staff attends Anita Alvarez.

In sports, there is no greatness without sacrifices. No being is so good without sacrifice. Elite athletes are the best in their trade, and while they can’t all be the greatest of all, they are all still the best in the world at what they do, and they should be who – which Well, it must possess certain characteristics. The talent, yes, the singular thinking, sure, but also the ability to push yourself, to live life to the limit – and that’s tough.

They skip parties, skip nights out, and ruin family vacations, all because of what British cycling during the peak of the last decade has described as “marginal gains”.

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These are small improvements, purifying everything by 1%, to significantly increase overall performance; Because when the difference between success and failure is a fraction of a second or an inch, every little thing counts.

For British Cycling, this meant hiring a surgeon to teach each rider the best way to wash their hands to reduce their chances of catching a cold and to choose the best type of pillow and mattress so that each rider could get the best night’s sleep.

When you consistently make that little of your life, and then push yourself to such an extreme — or more relevantly, without knowing where the actual limit is — during a competition that your safety, or even your life, is at stake, it probably becomes more understandable to the average person.

In a 2012 column in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, triathlete Leslie Patterson wrote: “Every great athlete is a little crazy, a little obsessive, a lot selfish and definitely not the norm.”

Anita Alvarez competes before collapsing during the individual freestyle technical swimming final at the Fifa World Championships (FINA).

Perhaps that is why athletes need protection, and taken care of by those who understand that winning shouldn’t come at any cost.

But how much is too much? In her statement published on Instagram, Fuentes says technical swimming is no different than other high-end endurance sports.

“We’ve all seen pictures where some athletes don’t reach the finish line and others help them get there,” she said.

And we have. Who can forget to watch footage of the British athlete Alistair Brownlee Stopping to help his struggling brother and everything but carry him before throwing him over the finish line?

At the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Scottish Calum Hawkins lost in the men’s gold marathon after collapsing and hitting his head on a roadside barrier, two kilometers from the finish in the scorching East Coast heat.

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There’s also, of course, the story of the legendary Greek runner Pheidippides, who was the inspiration for the modern marathon. Was the Greek victory over the Persians and its fatal collapse announced after running from Marathon to Athens? It depends who you ask.

Thousands of years ago, sports had risks, and still do. In 2008, 11 climbers died In pursuit of the summit of K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, when an avalanche caused the fall of a fixed rope used by mountaineers.
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But elite athletes tend to differentiate between risks and outcomes. For Alex Honnold, widely regarded as the greatest rock climber of all time, the danger of climbing round rocks without a rope is low, and the outcome, which may be death, of course, is high.

In 2017, the American became the first person to climb the 3,200-foot El Capitan monolith without any ropes, a skill known as free solo training. He told CNN a few years ago that trying to get it done was “business as usual” and built on decades of practice.

And this practice, the thousands of hours put into perfecting a craft, is invisible to the average person. The end product is usually a flawless performance, cementing the athlete’s position as another being, which is why a dramatic fall or rescue becomes headlines around the world.

What happened in Budapest this week was a reminder that elite athletes, while far from average, are human too.