Norway mourns death of 26-year-old swimming star

By the Associated Press | May 2, 2012 | 11:38 AM EDT

FILE - In this Monday, July 25, 2011 file photo Norway's Alexander Dale Oen shows the gold medal he won in the men's 100m Breaststroke event at the FINA Swimming World Championships in Shanghai, China. The Norwegian Swimming Federation said Tuesday May 1, 2012, world champion Alexander Dale Oen has died after suffering a cardiac arrest. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, file)

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Alexander Dale Oen was remembered as a swimming world champion and role model whose achievements transcended sports and brought joy to Norway.

Colleagues, media, friends and fans paid tribute to one of the country's best medal hopes for the London Olympics, who died from cardiac arrest late Monday during a pre-Olympic training camp at elevation in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Condolences flooded in Wednesday to Norway's main Olympic training center in Oslo, where a moment of remembrance was held.

Dale Oen's death dominated the front pages of local media, and scores of poems and messages were published on newspaper websites commemorating the 26-year-old from the western city of Bergen. The swimmer became a national hero after winning the 100-meter breaststroke at last year's world championships in Shanghai, just three days after 77 people were killed in a massacre in Norway by self-confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik.

Dale Oen dedicated that victory — the first world title for a Norwegian swimmer — to the victims of the tragedy, pointing to the Norwegian flag on his cap after the finish to send a message to his country. At the medals ceremony, he cried on the podium as the Norwegian national anthem was played.

"He didn't do it for himself, he did it for the Norwegian people," wrote daily newspaper Verdens Gang. "He cried for Norway and he cried for the terror victims. Yesterday, it was Norway's turn to cry for Alexander."

National broadcaster NRK filled its website with articles about the life and career of the world champion, with a headline saying "Why we are crying for Oen." Newspaper Bergens Tidende wrote "He swam for Norway, now we swim for Alex."

Organizers canceled this year's Bergen Swim Festival, where Dale Oen had been set to appear.

"Alex was one of the big profiles for this year's BSF and now that he is no longer among us, it's an impossible task to grant BSF 2012 the justice such an event deserves," organizers wrote in a statement.

Norway's Olympic rower Olaf Tufte dedicated a poem to his friend on his Facebook page.

"To Alex: You, you were going to shoulder Norway through the Olympics. You were going to show the way," he wrote. "You were a role model for us, and will always remain that. You were our hero, who showed us that is was possible."

On Tuesday, memorial services were held both in Oeygarden, the small city where Dale Oen grew up, and Flagstaff, where members of a shocked Norwegian team gathered to mourn their teammate.

Also on Tuesday, several soccer matches in Norway marked his passing with a moment of silence before the games.

Teammates found Dale Oen collapsed on his bathroom floor at a hotel in Arizona late Monday. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Aside from winning the breaststroke event at last year's world championships in Shanghai, he also picked up a silver medal in the 100 breaststroke at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.