Alexander Dale Oen is one of many Norwegian athletes struggling to come to terms with last Friday’s attacks in Oslo while involved in international competition. But despite breaking down in tears before international media, the swimmer won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke at the World Championships in China on Monday in order to “honour those that died.”
Taking part in his fourth World Championships, Dale Oen won gold with a time of 58.71 seconds, earning his 10th international medal as a senior swimmer. He is the first Norwegian man to win a medal at a World Championships using a 50-meter pool. The swimmer from southwest Norway won a silver medal in the same event at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, which was also Norway’s first-ever Olympic medal in swimming.
Moved to tears
Dale Oen had been clearly affected by the Oslo attacks at home in Norway throughout the week. His celebrations after his win were low-key, and the swimmer looked moved as the national anthem played.
The gold medalist was most obviously moved just after the attacks, during the practice and heats for the event he would eventually win. On completing a heat as the fastest in the field, he pointed to the Norwegian flag on his bathing cap. But he would afterwards break into tears when an interviewer asked about the tragedy back home – he had managed to hold back the tears when speaking English to the international media, but a question in Norwegian from Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) caused him to cry, and he took no further questions. His trainer, Petter Løberg, told newspaper Aftenposten that “he is thinking of those at home, and it is important that all Norwegians stand together.” Before the final, Dale Oen himself said he would “honour those that died” and stated that medals were the last thing on his mind.
The swimmer received congratulations from Prime Minister Jens Stotenberg and King Harald after his victory, describing the greetings as “fantastically nice” and “something that I immensely appreciate … in times such as this.”
Protest, victory and London 2012
Dale Oen became famous at the last World Championships in 2009 after protesting the use of so-called “super swimsuits.” He chose to wear a small pair of small swimming trunks to show his disdain. At the time, he said that he was protesting against the direction of the sport, and worried how young swimmers and their families would cope with the pressure to buy expensive “super swimsuits.” Such swimsuits have since been banned.
Speaking after winning the 100 meters, Dale Oen described himself as “humble.” The triumph was made all the more remarkable given the fact that he has not had access to a 50-meter pool at any of the swimming clubs he has been a member of in Norway.
Dale Oen has now also reached the finals of the 50 meter breaststroke for the first time, setting the third-best time in the semi-finals. Although he is not expected to end up with the gold medal, Oen himself told Aftenposten that “nothing is impossible.”
“Now it is going to be an even tougher job towards London 2012,” Dale Oen concluded. “All the others will sharpen up, but that’s what we will do as well.”
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