By Andrew Dampf ,AP
DEBRECEN, Hungary — 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.”
Norway has 16 athletes competing at these championships, which also counts as their 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 prompted an outpouring of mourning across Norway, dominating local media.