Late swimmer honored by competitors

BY foxsports • July 28, 2012

Alexander Dale Oen inspired a nation last July when he captured the 100-meter breaststroke world championship, then dedicated his triumph to 77 fellow Norwegians killed three days earlier in the country's worst peacetime massacre.

He pointed to the flag on his swim cap and wept on the podium as Norway's national anthem played. By late April, Dale Oen was dead at 26 from heart disease - months before he was to be the best hope for Norwegian swimming gold at the London Games.

South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh now carries Dale Oen's memory into the pool, as do the three Norwegian Olympic swimmers and so many others at the Aquatics Centre touched by Dale Oen's compassion and competitive spirit.

Dale Oen, with an ear-to-ear grin and buff biceps he flexed for all to see, surely would have been in a neighboring lane in the 100 breaststroke final Sunday night.

Van der Burgh said Saturday he is dedicating the event to Dale Oen, the silver medalist in Beijing. Italian Fabio Scozzoli, who placed second to Dale Oen at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, also vowed to pay tribute.

''It's obviously strange'' to be there without him, Van der Burgh said. ''But I can't be focusing about Alex right now. I have to look after myself first and prepare for the race and try to win a medal.''

Japan's Kosuke Kitajima aims for his third straight Olympic gold in the 100 breast, and could become the first male swimmer to win the same event in three Olympics.

On Friday night, Norwegian Olympic Committee chief Jarle Aamboe carried a photo of Dale Oen on the inside of his suit jacket near his heart during the opening ceremony in what the delegation considered a respectful way to honor the decorated swimmer.

Dale Oen's world title was the first by a Norwegian, and he had to beat Kitajima to do it. It was a much-needed lift for Norway, mourning the 77 lost in a politically fueled bombing of a government high-rise and shooting spree at a youth camp.

Norway never could have imagined mourning Dale Oen less than a year later.

''We're carrying him with us all the time,'' countrywoman Sara Nordenstam said following her heat in the 400-meter individual medley. She said the swimmers will honor him by ''swimming fast and remembering him and remember everything that he taught us and go for the goals that we set together.''

Nordenstam is one of three Norwegian swimmers in London, including the lone man, considered the country's future in the sport following Dale Oen's death: Lavrans Solli.

Dale Oen had been training five to six hours a day at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., during camp this spring. He went into cardiac arrest April 30, and teammates found him collapsed on the bathroom floor of his hotel. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at a hospital.

Nothing had seemed wrong. Dale Oen's death came after only a light workout and a round of golf. Teammates became worried when the swimmer spent an unusually long time in the shower and entered his bathroom when he failed to respond to their knocks on the door.

Nobody will forget what his world championship meant on July 25, 2011.

''Yes, I'm so sad,'' Kitajima said after his preliminary heat Saturday. ''Everybody has their own feelings.''

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