Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Greater than the Greatest: Alexander Dale Oen

It was certainly the type of news you hoped was just a hoax. Unfortunately, Alexander Dale Oen, world champion from 2011 in the 100 breaststroke and so much more, passed away two days ago. Details emerged over the course of the day that Dale Oen's heart had stopped. It's terrifying for everyone to see someone young and superhuman suddenly lose their life. Dale Oen was best known for his Shanghai victory, coming just three days after the most tragic event in recent Norwegian history. The truth was he did far more before and after with the time he had.

First, I think it's appropriate for American readers to get some international context. Yes, Dale Oen swam for Norway, a subject considerable pride in his home country. But the power of his sportsmanship was such that he crossed far beyond national borders. When Dale Oen took gold last summer with an electrifying first lap, it seemed like the whole world was cheering. Sports is competitive enough that if he had been less than genuine at any point there would be whispers: "he's not all he's cracked up to be". By all accounts, Dale Oen was who he was cracked up to be.

To many swimming fans, Dale Oen's impending showdown with Kosuke Kitajima this summer in London was to be the race of the meet. Kitajima will probably go down in history as the greatest breaststroker of all time. And yet, there will be many that consider Dale Oen to be greater. I remember being convinced that the Norwegian would block Kitajima's bid for history in 2008 after he seemingly cruised through the semi-finals there. If Kitajima is the best then it is only because he conquered phenomenal rivals like Dale Oen.

That Dale Oen will be missed around the world should not overshadow just how much he meant to Norway. He was the right man at the right time when he gave inspiration to an ailing country last summer. Now Norway has to contend with his loss while at the same time all of last summer's wounds remain both fresh and recently re-opened. Anders Bering Breivik, the perpetrator of the massacre, has been on trial for the past two weeks. He was to be sentenced just before this summer's olympics.

When you live in a little country like Norway, it's easy to feel overlooked by the world. Raw probability projects that far fewer Norwegians will rise to the top than say, Americans. Dale Oen was a reminder to all Norwegians what they can accomplish, what he did with the opportunity and stage given to him an example to the world.


  1. Nice article, Chris, I know people appreciate it

  2. Great tribute. Just a real tragedy for the sport of swimming.