Alexander Dale Oen – “The heart breaker”

Thumbs up from Alex in BudapestTouching article here on Aftenposten, in Norwegian but worth running through Google Translate. I’ll translate a few excerpts here, as well as I can:

His eyes could seem heavy and sleepy. They possibly become that way by being opened at 5 AM every day and spending countless hours in the pool. But his head was alert and his stare intense when he started telling the story of a frog. Maybe this was the mystery that he solved for us right there and then: How can a boy from the sea on the west coast, in a country almost without pools, become the best in the world in a sport that everyone masters?

– Have you heard about the frogs? They try to jump up on a pole, again and again, but no one reaches the top. They slide down every time. Every day people walk past and say “Frog, forget it.” Most of them give up eventually, but one doesn’t. One day it is at the top. The human comes by and asks “Frog, how did you accomplish that?”. But the frog doesn’t answer. Do you know why? Because the frog was deaf.

When his heart stopped in the shower in Flagstaff, Arizona, four days ago, the rest of his body was whole. The training was going so well; “He and the coaches were just walking around smiling”, Sean Anthony told us, the man who arranged the camp for the Norwegian national team at over 2000 meters altitude in USA.

He trained a lot outside the pool. Several times he traveled to London to be taught movements by ballet dancer at the Royal Ballet. He teamed up with body control instructor Jane Paris. She helped him with his starting technique. When Aftenposten spoke with her on the phone Thursday, she excused herself for crying all the time and said she would miss the Norwegian for the rest of her life.

– All who met ‘Alex’ said, “What a guy”. He was one of the finest persons I have ever met.

His greatness lied in him winning without becoming arrogant. He had no whims. He didn’t brag. He helped his competitors, Norwegian and foreign. He never forgot where he came from, that his parents were ‘stril’ (from the area around Øygarden), and mentioned constantly that his mother had ran down a Passat, a Mercedes and a Golf to drive him to and from training. Adding to this, he challenged those he met.


“World champion but totally unassuming. Busy and sought after, but ready to go to great lengths to meet also our expectations in the local press. He was not one we had to chase, or one who with his body language showed resentment towards us. He was forthcoming and gave patiently, without any terms, off himself. Always,” Bergens Tidendes Knut Langeland said.

Even if he mostly just read Donald Duck, he was very fascinated by the parts of Norwegian history that described strength, courage and breaking of frontiers. You talk a long time with him about Roald Amundsen. You left meetings with him filled with energy. As a journalist, you often feel that one newspaper article lasts a long time when you have interviewed a person, whether it is in sports, culture, politics or academia. But with Alexander Dale Oen it was different. You left him and resented that you just were to write an article. It felt more appropriate to write a book.

Alexander Dale Oen and (mental coach) Britt Tajet-Foxell sent thousands of messages to each other by e-mail and sms from 2007 until his death. The very last e-mail the swimmer wrote to her, from Flagstaff, Arizona, he concluded as follows:

Så lenge skuta kan gå/
Så lenge hjertet kan slå

As long as the ship can go/
As long as the heart can beat


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