Swimmer and skier won big at home

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He looked quite a bit different in a tuxedo instead of a swimsuit but there was no mistake about who won Norway’s most coveted athletics prize over the weekend. Star swimmer Aleksander Dale Oen was voted the top athlete of the year, by his own fellow athletes from the full range of sport. And the people’s  choice award was  won by endearing cross country skier Therese Johaug.

Aleksander Dale Oen after winning his fellow athletes' admiration, at the annual Athletes' Gala in Hamar, broadcast nationwide over the weekend by NRK. PHOTO: NRK

Oen, who was the first Norwegian to ever win a gold medal for swimming in the world championships, was up against tough competition, as was Johaug, like golf queen Suzann Pettersen, skiing stars Marit Bjørgen and Petter Northug, chess champion Magnus Carlsen and cyclists Thor Hushov and Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Oen won what’s called “utøvernes pris,” where other top athletes decide who deserve the highest honor among them. Marit Bjørgen, who won four gold medals at the skiing world championships last year, told newspaper Dagsavisen that she had voted for Oen. “He was Norway’s first world champion in swimming and not least after performing when he had to,” she said, referring to his gold medal in the 100-meter breast stroke event that was held just a few days after the terrorist attacks in Norway. Oen cried openly for the victims of the attacks, but went on to win for them as well.

He said he was “without words” after winning the admiration of his peers on Saturday night at the annual Athletes’ Gala held in a former Olympic arena at Hamar. Oen had won European championships before, but the world championships was a major accomplishment for a swimmer from Norway.

“Behind every event, there’s a lot of people,” Oen managed to say. “Coaches, support personnel, family, loved ones. Every one of you is so important and I prize you highly.” Oen also won the prize for the best male athlete of the year.

Popular skier Therese Johaug, after winning gold at last year's Nordic skiing world championships. PHOTO: Petter Tandberg/Oslo 2011

Bjørgen won the prize for best female athlete of the year, but her teammate Therese Johaug won the top prize known as “årets navn.” That’s the people’s prize, voted on by ordinary Norwegians who were charmed by her triumphs and her reactions to them at last year’s Tour de Ski and the world championships, where she threw herself into the arms of King Harald V after winning a gold medal.

She was predictably thrilled on Saturday night, too, as she followed the awards ceremony in Norway from Italy, where she and Bjørgen were among those taking part in the tough Tour de Ski.

“Tusen takk (a thousand thanks)! This is an incredibly big prize,” Johaug told NRK, which arranged and broadcast the gala from Hamar. “2011 was a fantastic year for me. Winning world championship gold at home in Norway was something I had dreamed about since I was a little girl.”

Johaug went on to earn a spot on the winners’ platform  in the Tour de France on Sunday, placing third behind Bjørgen, who was second, and Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, who won.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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