From the championship podium he swiped at tears as the Norwegian national anthem played; people across the world watched on televisions as Alexander Dale Oen stoked Norway’s pride by winning the country’s first world title in swimming.
Norway needed something to cheer about because just three days earlier, July 22, 2011, the country was rocked by two terrorist attacks that left 77 people dead.
Less than one year later Dale Oen is dead, the victim of a sudden cardiac arrest while participating in a pre-Olympic training camp in Flagstaff, Ariz. The Norwegian world champion was just 26 years old, according to an Associate Press report. Dale Oen, favored to win more medals at the London Olympics, was found unconscious on his bathroom floor late Monday and was pronounced dead a short while after at Flagstaff Medical Center.
Dale Oen’s world championship win raised the national spirit of Norway as the country dealt with the shock of two terrorist attacks by a single domestic extremist. A car bomb explosion in Oslo within Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government sector of Norway, killed eight people and 69 people, many youngsters, died in a second attack that occurred less than two hours later at a summer camp on the island of Utøya in Tyrifjorden, Buskerud. The first attack injured 209 and 110 people were injured at the camp, many seriously. Norwegian Police arrested Norwegian lone-wolf extremist Anders Behring Breivik, then 32, on Utøya island and charged him with both massacres.
"We're all in shock," Norway coach Petter Loevberg said in a statement released by the Norway Swimming Federation. "This is an out-of-the-body experience for the whole team over here. Our thoughts primarily go to his family who have lost Alexander way too early."
Hospital spokeswoman Starla Collins confirmed the death, according to AP, but did not provide further details.
Dale Oen won the 100-meter breaststroke at last year's world championships in Shanghai only three days after the bombing and shooting spree by Anders Breivik.
Dale Oen dedicated his world championship to the victims of that massacre; he pointed to the Norwegian flag on his cap after the finish to the delight of Norwegians.
"We need to stay united," he said after the race. "Everyone back home now is of course paralyzed with what happened, but it was important for me to symbolize that even though I'm here in China, I'm able to feel the same emotions."