May 21, 2012

Norwegian swimmers were moved to tears when late teammate Alex Dale Oen was remembered with a special tribute at the start of the European swimming championships.

Three weeks ago, Dale Oen died suddenly from cardiac arrest during a pre-Olympic training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona. He would have celebrated his 27th birthday Monday.

Before the start of the first evening session at the Euros, a video tribute was played and Norwegian Swimming Federation president Per Rune Eknes was called to the stage.

"It's kind of weird. Alex wasn't supposed to be here, so that in itself isn't a big difference, but it's still the biggest difference in the world not having him at home watching," Alexsander Hetland said after his morning heat in the 100 breaststroke, the event Dale Oen won at last year's world championships in Shanghai.

"So we're just trying to make him proud and we have his spirit with us. We try to do what he stood for, and that was swimming fast - faster than anybody. For me, it's about keeping progressing, because that's what he would have wanted for us."

Dale Oen was planning to skip this event to rest a sore shoulder. The 16 Norwegian swimmers here are each competing with black swim caps bearing Dale Oen's initials on one side - "A.D.O."

Freestyler Gard Kvale said the tribute was his idea.

"We try to not think about it. He's with us in spirit," Kvale said after placing 24th in the 400 free heats, too slow to qualify for the final. "I thought about it too much when I was swimming, instead of concentrating on my own race. It's not the sorrow I was thinking about, it was more `Do it for Alex' kind of stuff."

These championships also count as Norway's Olympic trials.

So far, only one Norwegian has qualified for the London Games, Ingvild Snildal in the 50 butterfly.

"I hope there will be four or five of us in London," Snildal said.

Dale Oen had already qualified courtesy of his gold in Shanghai. His death was mourned across Norway and dominating the nation's media.

"There was overwhelming support after the incident in Norway and internationally," Hetland said after placing 26th in the 100 breast heats - also out of qualifying range. "In Norway, swimming is considered a very small sport. We're mostly a Nordic, winter nation, but the massive support shows us that people actually do pay attention, they do care, and for us on the team that means a lot. ... That made us proud to be swimmers."

Dale Oen had become a national hero after dedicating his world title - the first ever for a Norwegian swimmer - to the 77 people killed in a massacre in Norway by self-confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik three days earlier. He pointed to the Norwegian flag on his cap after the finish to send a message to his countrymen back home and cried on the podium as the Norwegian national anthem was played.

The Norwegian team was in Flagstaff for an altitude training camp.

Results of an autopsy released the day after his death showed that there were no signs of trauma. Additional tests are being conducted and a cardiovascular pathologist is also being consulted, but the final test results are expected to take two months or longer.

A police report released to The Associated Press revealed that the teammates who found Dale Oen unconscious reported that he had previously been "acting somewhat out of sorts."

"We don't have any answers. You got to talk to the doctors. I don't think there's any point to making any speculation or false conclusions before we get the actual results," said Hetland, who often roomed with Dale Oen. "We can wait for the experts to figure that out, then we can make decisions based on that."

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