SHANGHAI - For a minute or two, Norwegian swimmer Alexander Dale Oen was able to block out the massacre that has traumatized his home country and focus on nothing but the pool.
As soon as he won the gold in the men's 100-metre breaststroke on Monday, however, he pointed to the Norwegian flag on his cap and then rose out of the water and flexed his biceps — a show of strength to his countrymen back home.
"We need to stay united," he said. "Everyone back home now is of course paralyzed with what happened but it was important for me to symbolize that even though I'm here in China, I'm able to feel the same emotions."
Dale Oen won in 58.71 seconds, with Italy's Fabio Scozzoli taking silver in 59.42 and Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa winning the bronze in 59.49.
The Norwegian, the silver medallist in the same event at the 2008 Olympics, said it's been incredibly difficult for him to concentrate on swimming this week in the wake of the bombing and shooting spree in Norway that killed 76 people.
He's been asked repeatedly about the attacks and teared up several times. At the news conference following his victory, he wore a black piece of tape around the sleeve of his T-shirt, just below the Norwegian flag.
"I guess I was racing a little bit more with my heart today than I was technically," he said.
Dale Oen said the Norwegian team has comforted one another throughout the week, and in the hours leading up to his race, they tried to focus on "positive feelings and a positive atmosphere."
"I just tried to use what happened back home as fuel and try to think that we just need to push forward and we really need just to let everyday life come back. We can't let this guy ruin the future for us," he added, referring to Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing extremist who has confessed to the twin terrorist attacks.
On the medal stand, though, the feelings came rushing back and he wiped away a tear.