By Christine Hauser
More than a decade after he won Olympic and world championship medals in freestyle swimming, Filippo Magnini is still beating other people in the water.
This time, though, he was in a race to save a drowning man who had fallen off an inflatable swan.
On Sunday, Magnini, 37, was on vacation at the Cala Sinzias beach in Sardinia, Italy, when he and others spotted a commotion in the water, Italian news outlets reported.
A man appeared to be drowning. Lifeguards climbed down from their observation tower to rush into a rescue boat. But Magnini was already ahead of them. And “with some very fast strokes,” he reached the man and kept him afloat until the lifeguards caught up, Italian news outlets reported.
“He was in great difficulty,” Magnini told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
“At a certain point he got scared, he got stuck and drank some water,” Magnini said. “When I reached him, he could not even speak.”
A BBC reporter, Soroush Pakzad, who is a friend of the man’s, was at the beach when it happened. Pakzad said the man, identified as Andrea Benedetto, had recently married and was celebrating with his husband and other friends, the BBC reported.
The newlyweds were floating on the inflatable swan when Benedetto fell into the water and became “unable to move his limbs due to a medical condition,” the BBC reported.
A strong wind blew the swan away, Pakzad said, and Benedetto’s husband tried to keep his partner’s head above water as friends cried for help.
Magnini helped tow Benedetto to shore, where he was given first aid, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
“A few hours after the accident, I was at the hospital when I realized that Filippo Magnini was the man who saved my life,” Benedetto told the BBC. “I hope to be able to thank him in person.”
Corriere della Sera published an account of the rescue as well as images of beachgoers watching from the sand as Magnini came ashore.
Magnini had posted photographs of himself and his partner, Giorgia Palmas, an Italian television personality, at the beach several days before the rescue propelled him into the spotlight.
Magnini grew up in Pesaro, Italy, and started swimming when he was 10. He won a bronze medal as part of Italy’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay team at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and was a world champion in the 100-meter freestyle in 2005 and 2007. He retired from the sport in December 2017.
(After retiring, he received a four-year ban for doping, but he never tested positive and denied any wrongdoing, The Associated Press reported.)
“I did what I had to do,” Magnini said of the rescue, according to Corriere della Sera.
“This time, he was really the right man, in the right place and at the right time,” the newspaper reported.