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Dale Oen: "A Shining Light & Pride of Norway"

May 2, 2012  - Craig Lord

As tributes continued to pour in for Alexander Dale Oen, the world champion who made headlines across the world after he died on Monday in Flagstaff, Arizona, the swimmer's sponsor Arena described him as "a shining light", "a swimming purist" and "one of the proudest sons" of Norway.

On a day when the Flagstaff Police Department said it was conducting "a thorough investigation into the cause of death", emphasising that there were no signs of trauma or foul play, with an autopsy due to be performed by the Coconino County Medical examiner's office, the world of swimming continued to honour the memory of a swimmer who will be sorely missed.

Though his passing was "a tragedy that will stay with us for a long time, the memory of him as a swimmer and even more so a friend will be stronger, and will far outlast the grief that we feel now," said Arena boss Christiano Portas.

The statement in full:

Members of the Arena family were shocked and profoundly saddened to learn today of the tragic death of our friend and great champion Alexander Dale Oen, who passed away on 30th April while at a training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the United States.

The reigning 100m breaststroke world champion has been for the last 6 years one of the most talented swimmers on the swimwear company’s roster, with high prospects for this year’s London Olympics.

But as talented a swimmer as he was, to many at Arena he was first and foremost a friend, one with a warm, welcoming smile, an enduring passion for life, and a set of noble principles - during the high-tech swimsuit era, Alexander remained a swimming purist, wearing only textile suits as polyurethane fever raged around him. He was a rare human being, leaving his mark wherever he went, and his memory will live long in those who had the privilege to know him.

“All of us at Arena are feeling a deep sense of grief and loss today,” said Cristiano Portas, Arena CEO. “Alexander was a shining light for us and for many others in his home country of Norway and around the world. His passing is a tragedy that will stay with us for a long time, but the memory of him as a swimmer and even more so a friend will be stronger, and will far outlast the grief that we feel now.

"I still have an extremely vivid memory, of a breakfast we had together during his last visit to our headquarters, in which I could personally appreciate his great energy and positive spirit. In this unhappy and difficult time we would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to Alex’s family and friends, and join with the Norwegian Swimming Federation in their mourning of one their proudest sons.”

Among Dale Oen's opponents was New Zealand's Glenn Synders, who told the Fairfax group of papers in his country: "I am absolutely shocked. It's a very sad day. I've known Alex for a few years now and we got pretty close last year.

"From when I have known him he was such a nice guy. He's been a good ambassador for the sport and one of Norway's heros. He was a good medal prospect for London and it's very sad now that he doesn't get that chance."

Mark Regan Snyders' coach and former head coach top Denmark, added: "Alex was an amazing prospect and one of the really nice people in the sport. Norway is known for their winter sports and he became a hero there when he became the first swimmer in Norway to win a world championship medal. It is a very sad day."

From Flagstaff, Dale Oen's teammate Gard Kvale became the latest member of the Norwegian team to air his feelings when he told folks back home: "Thanks for all of the messages. As Alexander showed us during the World Championships last year we are stronger when we stand together. Our team of athletes, coaches and support staff have fallen into deep sorrow but we will help each other get through this difficult time. Our deepest thoughts are with the Dale Oen family back home in Norway. Rest in peace Alex."

Eric Shanteau, the American breaststroke ace who had his own brush with mortality and survived a battle with cancer after post-Beijing 2008 treatment, told USA Today: "We're so focused on our world of swimming and something like this happens - and it kind of puts into perspective what we're doing. It is great and it is amazing that we're training for the Olympic Games, but at the same time there's so much more out there. It was just a very big reality check for me when I heard it. There wasn't a personal connection there, but, wow, life is a fragile thing. We think we're invincible right now. That's our mindset. We're training to be the best in the world and we're in the best physical condition we can be in, and then something like this happens. It's tragic."

LEN, the European swimming league, also added to the condolences with a statement that included:

Alexander Dale Oen was one of the top favourites in the 100m breaststroke event at the London Olympic Games after his clear victory in Shanghai at the 2011 FINA World Championships. This feat also earned him the LEN Award to Best European Male Swimmer of 2011.

In the Beijing Olympics in 2008 he won a silver medal in the 100m breast. He was European Champion in 2008 and 2010, and also won his first short course European title in 2011 in Szczecin.

Norway and the swimming world mourn a truly hard-working competitor who was about to reach the highest point of his already wonderful career in July in London. He will nonetheless remain an extraordinary champion forever.