By Tom Degun

Alexander Dale_Oen_1_1MayMay 1 - Norwegian swimming star Alexander Dale Oen, the favourite to win gold in the 100 metres breaststroke at the London 2012 Olympics, has died at a training camp in the United States at the age of only 26.

Dale Oen (pictured top and below), the reigning world champion in the 100m breaststroke, was found collapsed in a shower after suffering a cardiac arrest following training in Flagstaff, Arizona, yesterday.

Emergency services arrived at the scene within minutes but were unable to revive him even though he had appeared healthy earlier in the day and during the training session.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has led the tributes.

"Alexander Dale Oen was a great athlete for a small country," he said.

"My thoughts go to his family and friends."

Dale Oen was born in Bergen, Norway's second largest city, and began swimming at the age of four.

He made his international breakthrough in 2005 when he came seventh in the 100m breaststroke during the World Championships in Montreal.

He truly shot to prominence when he won silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympics – Norway's first Olympic swimming medal.

Further honours followed as he picked up European Championship gold medals in the 100m breaststroke in 2008 and 2010.

Perhaps finest moment came, however, when he claimed victory in his favourite discipline in Shanghai at the 2011 World Championships.

The win came just days after the infamous attack in Norway, by Anders Behring Breivik, which killed 77 people, and gave the country a much needed boost.

"We can't let this guy ruin the future for us," Dale Oen said shortly after his victory.

British swimmer Steve Parry, an Athens 2004 bronze medallist, admitted he was in shock after hearing the news.

"I thought it was a mistake – I mean such a fit guy, a world champion, suffering a cardiac arrest," he said.

"He was one of the nicest people involved in our sport.

"He was a rock-solid guy.

"Usually a lot of people in his position don't have that much time but he made sure he had time for everyone."

Dale Oen's last ever tweet came at the start of the week with the training camp coming to an end.

"2 days left of our camp up here in Flagstaff, then it's back to the most beautiful city in Norway #Bergen," it read.

Alexander Dale_Oen_2_1May
The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has expressed its condolences.

"Dale Oen has been of the most promising revelations at the 2008 Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in the 100m breaststroke, an event in which he obtained the victory at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai," said a FINA statement.

"He was therefore one of the most talented swimmers in this stroke and was certainly preparing a brilliant participation at the upcoming Olympic Games in London.

"In everyone's memory is also present his courage in Shanghai when shining in the pool immediately after the sad events that had taken place in Norway.

"He had given to media and fans an image of a brave and sincere athlete, paying a heartfelt tribute to his compatriots from the pool deck in China.

"His example had been one of the most vivid moments of those Championships.

"FINA shares the mourning of the entire Norwegian swimming community and addresses its most sincere condolences to his family and friends."

British Swimming chief executive David Sparkes has also offered his condolences to the swimming community.

"British Swimming wishes to pass on its deepest condolences to the family of Alexander Dale Oen and all our friends in Norwegian swimming following his sudden death in the USA where he was preparing for the Olympics in London later this year.

"Dale Oen was a great swimmer and an inspiration to us all, and will be greatly missed by everyone in the sport."

Fran Crippen_1_May
Dale Oen's death is the second major tragedy to hit swimming in the last two years after highly rated American marathon swimmer Fran Crippen (pictured above) died at a similar age in October 2011 after losing consciousness during a 10 kilometres open-water race in the United Arab Emirates.

It also intensifies the issue of cardiac arrests to elite sporting figures after Livorno midfielder Piermario Morosini died last month during an Italian Serie B football match with Pescara.

The incident came less than a month after Bolton Wanderers' midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed during an FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.

Muamba's heart stopped and he was treated for 10 minutes on the pitch before being taken to hospital; although he was technically dead for 78 minutes, according to a medic, he has since made a remarkable recovery.

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