The United States put on an inspirational display to finish ninth in the artistic swimming women's team free final at the 2022 FINA World Championships on 24 June, less than two hours after Anita Alvarez was declared unfit to compete.
But after the supervising doctor decided that it was not safe for the 25-year-old to take part, Yujin Chang, who was struggling with injury last week, was drafted in to make her World Championships debut.
Showing true Olympic spirit, Chang and Team USA scored 87.4667, while China (96.7000), Ukraine (95.0000), and Japan (93.1333) took first, second, and third respectively.
“It was about trust and proving to ourselves that we’re not going to stop just because they don’t allow (Alvarez to swim),” Fuentes, who won four medals at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics for Spain, said afterwards.
“The important thing is that we tried. It was not even a failure because we lost Anita literally one-and-a-half hours before, and we practised with her. We had to rearrange everything, and we did our best with a swimmer who has never been on this team. I think we did very well despite these conditions."
“The American culture is that it’s always better to try, than not try. Failure means that at least you tried. It’s important that we keep the philosophy that nothing will stop us and if it doesn’t happen for us now, it’s going to be later." - USA coach Andrew Fuentes
Team member Elisabeth Davidson echoed her coach’s sentiments, highlighting that their response to adversity was more important than the result.
“It was about coming together as a team and having our best performance no matter what odds were in our way and I think we did that,” Davidson said.
“We spent the past two hours focussing on Yujin, making sure she was comfortable on pattern and she did a great job.
Speaking to Olympics.com on 23 June, Fuentes explained her instinctual reactions in rescuing Alvarez a day previously:
"I had to pull one of the humans who I love the most out of the water, and fight for her to breathe," the Spaniard said in an Instagram live with @Olympics on Thursday (23 June 2022).
"I saw it almost before it happened. I’m used to seeing them every day, 8-hours a day, more than my kids," she added, "I noticed that when she was doing the last part of the routine her feet were a bit more pale than usual.
"When she finished, instead of going up [for air], she went down... so I knew it was not ok. I wanted her to be safe as fast as possible, and went as fast as I could.
"I grabbed her and brought her to the surface."
The Artistic swimming competition wraps up on Saturday (25 June) with the mixed duet free and women’s team highlight finals.