One of the gold-medal favourites for this summer’s Olympics, Alexander Dale Oen, died last week of a suspected cardiac arrest at the age of 26.
Attending a high-altitude training camp at Flagstaff Arizona in the United States, Dale Oen’s sudden passing has rocked not only his home country of Norway, where he had become a sporting icon, but the whole swimming community.
Dale Oen won Norway’s first-ever world swimming medal in 2006, before winning the country’s first-ever Olympic swimming medal with a silver in the 100m breaststroke at Beijing 2008. 2011 saw him reach new heights by becoming World Champion at Shanghai in the 100m breaststroke, overcoming trauma to qualify and win gold in the three days following the Breivik attacks which claimed 77 lives in his home country. He became a national hero and dedicated his triumph to the Norwegian people.
His final message on Twitter expressed happiness at the prospect of returning home: "Two days left of our camp up here in Flagstaff, then it's back to the most beautiful city in Norway – Bergen."
In a country more renowned for its winter sports, Dale Oen proved a tremendous inspiration to his country’s young and aspiring swimmers, who are still pushing for improvements in facilities and funding. Tributes flowed in from peers, rivals and even the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg – the latter remarking: “A small country has lost a great athlete.”
This summer’s Olympics will be much poorer without the presence of such a positive and influential athlete who, approaching the zenith of his talent, was set to make his career on the biggest stage.