Alexander Dale Oen (21 May, 1985) is a Norwegian breaststroker and is among the world’s leading swimmers in this discipline at all distances.
Dale Oen’s emergence on the international scene came in 2005, when he made the final of the 100m breaststroke at the World Championships in Montreal, and later in the year at the European Short Course Championships in Trieste became the first Norwegian to break through the 1-minute barrier for the 100m breast, placing fourth and breaking the Nordic record. In 2006 at the World Short Course Championships in Shanghai, he became the first Norwegian man to win a World Championship medal when he placed third in the 100m breast. Some four months later at the European Championships in Budapest, Dale Oen won silver in the 100m breast, and finished the year taking a bronze at the European Short Course Championships in Helsinki. 2007 proved to be something of a frustrating year as he performed superbly in the prelims and semi-finals of both the World Championships in Melbourne and the European Short Course Championships in Debrecen, but failed to place in the final.
A first and deserved gold finally came in 2008 at the European Championships in Eindhoven, where Dale Oen won the 100m breaststroke in a European record time of 59.76s. He also took home silver medals in the 50m and 200m breaststroke events. Later in the year at the Beijing Olympics, he made history by being the first Norwegian to win an Olympic swimming medal as he took silver in the 100m breaststroke, breaking the existing Olympic record in both his heat and the semi-final, as well as the European record.
Dale Oen’s rejection of the hi-tech swimsuit reflected in his 2009 results, but he deservedly returned to the podium in the post-neoprene environment of 2010 as he took gold and silver (for 100m and 200m breaststroke respectively) at the European Championships in Budapest, breaking the Championship record in the 100m.
As swimmers gear up their preparations for the World Championships in Shanghai, Dale Oen’s form continues to improve, with impressive performances in the Mare Nostrum series in Canet, where he won the 100m breaststroke in a Championship record time, following his third-placed 100m finish and his 50m second place in the Barcelona leg.
Amongst the elite of the world’s swimmers, Alexander Dale Oen is something of a rare breed. First, until recently he lived and trained in Bergen, Norway, just 6° south of the Arctic Circle. Second, he was one of the few top swimmers that opted not to don the neoprene and polyurethane swimsuits of the hi-tech era, regardless of how it affected his placings in the world’s top competitions. And third, he’s an ardent photographer and lover of nature, getting out into the quiet and stillness of the natural world away from the buzz of pressure and competition. It’s a combination that tells of a character that is thoughtful, fascinating, and knows what he wants from life.
Like most top competitive swimmers, Dale Oen is driven, works hard, and competes as much against himself as his rivals. Already at the age of 11, he started training seriously, having realized that swimming held more chance of success than his other passion at the time, football. But it wasn’t easy – the closest training pool was 60km from where he lived, and it’s thanks to the support of his parents who drove him the 120km round trip for every session from the age of 8 until he was 16. The other big influence on his career is coach Stig Leganger-Hansen, only 9 years his senior, who was always waiting for him at the pool when he went for those early-morning sessions at an hour when most people were still asleep. With Dale Oen’s recent move to Bærum just outside Oslo, his long-time coach has gone with him, where he will continue to train the breaststroker alongside Sondre L. Solberg. In his typically respectful and modest manner, Alexander credits his parents and Stig as being the driving forces behind his success.
As a swimmer, he’s a purist. The hi-tech suit was counter to his principle of fair competition, and in this he was supported by his coach and his sponsor, Arena. So he never wore the hi-tech suits that yielded the records of the 2009 World Championships. Despite his results suffering, he stuck to his guns and has found redemption for his stand as he once again started mounting the podium in the post hi-tech competitions of 2010.
Among his passions outside the pool are his 1960 23-window Samba VW Bus and photography. As a lover of vintage cars, he harbours a special interest in sports models and how these fascinating vehicles preceded today’s modern models. He’s also a photography student, and combines this passion with his love of the outdoors, taking pictures in the breathtaking scenery that he lives in. Over the past few years he and his close friends have undertaken week-long spring and summer excursions into nature, including climbing Norway´s national mountain Stetind, and trekking 120km across the Finnmark Lapland.
Aside from the hard work in the pool – which he frequently shares with rival breaststroker Cameron van der Burgh from South Africa – his family and friends are very important to him, along with meeting new people and having a good laugh. All of which demonstrates a healthy perspective of what he’s chosen to do with his life. In the end, swimming is much more than a sport to Dale Oen. Aside from being a way of life, it has opened doors, presented him with opportunities, and led him to interesting people. And as he reflects in an interview with his sponsor, Arena, it’s also a great teacher for life: “Swimming for me is a way of getting to know myself both physically and mentally. I´ve been through all stages of emotion, from totally exhausted to extreme happiness and it makes me feel alive in every way.”