Norway’s greatest swimmer laid to rest

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Hundreds of mourners turned out for the funeral on Friday of Norway’s world champion swimmer and much-respected athlete Alexander Dale Oen. Not only were all 300 seats in his small local church filled, all 1,500 seats in a nearby public hall were filled as well, for those following the funeral service via video link.

Alexander Dale Oen after being named Norway's Athlete of the Year in January. The swimmer won the honor even in a year when Norwegian skiers had won many gold medals at the World Championships in Oslo. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Oen was Norway’s best swimmer in history and the country’s biggest hope for a gold medal at the upcoming Olympics in London. His sudden death from cardiac arrest last week, at the age of 26, stunned the country and athletes around the world.

Family, friends and fellow athletes paid their final respects in the small, historic Blomvåg Church in Oen’s hometown of Øygarden on Norway’s west coast. Among the gripping eulogies was that from Oen’s hometown sweetheart, Anja Johansen, who leaned over and kissed his casket after speaking.

“We two had a song, and I want you to take it with you now,” Johansen said, before “Wish you were here” by Pink Floyd was played in the packed in the church.

See photos from the ceremony and video from Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) here.

Oen’s brother Robin also spoke, as did the head of the national swimming team Ola Rønsen. Robin Dale Oen has launched a memorial fund for his brother, The Alexander Dale Oen Memorial Fund, to help support young athletes.

Oen would have turned 27 later this month, on May 21. He started swimming at an early age and was often called “a locomotive” in the water . He became the first Norwegian to swim the 100-meter breaststroke in less than a minute. During the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, he also became Norway’s first athlete to win a medal in swimming, after taking silver in the 100-meter breaststroke.

He then went on to win gold medals at the European Championships both in 2008 and 2010 and won Norway’s first world championship in swimming with a gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in Shanghai, just days after Norway was attacked by a homegrown terrorist who killed 77 persons. Oen won the hearts of his countrymen by vowing to swim for his country and then crying on the winners’ platform after he won.

Johansen said Oen made her days meaningful. Many other Norwegians felt the same. Oen died at a training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona on the evening of April 30 local time, May 1 back home in Norway.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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