Swimmer Fernando Alvarez of Spain had a chance to win the 2017 International Swimming Federation (FINA) Masters World Championships in Budapest last week. Yet the 71-year-old veteran swimmer had something else weighing heavily on his mind.
Alvarez kept thinking about the victims of the terrorist attack in Barcelona that happened on Aug. 16. A total of 15 people died and dozens more were injured when a driver plowed a van into a crowd on the street. To honor the victims, Alvarez asked FINA to call for a moment of silence.
However, meet officials refused the request. “They told me that ‘they could not waste a minute’ in the tournament,” Alvarez told the news site El Espanol.
The denial did not sway his heart, though.
The next day, when the gun went off to start the championship race, Alvarez took a stand. Literally. Instead of diving into the pool with the rest of his competitors, he stood stoically in place to honor to Barcelona victims.
After 60 seconds, the Spanish swimmer jumped off the block to complete the 200-meter swim. He finished last, but he got the minute he requested. Despite being a time-record holder in three events in his age division, he felt no sadness in his last place finish.
“I stayed alone. I left a minute later,” he said to the BBC. “But I do not care, I felt better than if I won all the gold in the world.”
Swimmer flooded with social media love
Word of Alvarez’s tribute spread faster than the ripples made from a rock in a pond. Social media users around the world praised the swimmer’s sacrifice and principles.
Values in sport worth more than gold @cncadiz pic.twitter.com/AK4ujr82Hq
— sportsbehaviour (@LewisParnellST) August 22, 2017
Bravo Fernando Alvarez ! Bravo CNC !
— Mama Ohana (@OhanaTribe) August 21, 2017
The swimming federation who refused to grant a moment of silence have not fared quite so well on social media. (FINA has not made a statement about Alvarez’s actions yet.)
Commenters decided to share their outrage:
As for Alvarez, his daughter told El Espagnol he’s tired after suddenly becoming a celebrity. Totally understandable. We congratulate him not only for his long career in swimming but for incredible sportsmanship and compassion, as well!