Alexander Dale Oen of Norway inspired his nation last July when he captured the 100-meter breaststroke world championship and dedicated the win to the 77 people killed in that country's worst peacetime massacre.
He pointed to the flag on his swim cap and wept on the podium as Norway's national anthem played. By late April, Dale Oen was dead at 26 from heart disease—months before he was to be the best hope for Norwegian swimming gold in London.
With an ear-to-ear grin and buff biceps he flexed for all to see, Dale Oen, the silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Games, surely would have been in a neighboring lane in the 100 breaststroke final Sunday.
"It's obviously strange" to be there without him, said van der Burgh, who is dedicating the event to Dale Oen. "But I can't be focusing about Alex right now. I have to look after myself first and prepare for the race and try to win a medal."
Italian Fabio Scozzoli, who placed second to Dale Oen at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, also vowed to pay tribute.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima aims for his third straight Olympic gold in the 100 breast, and could become the first male swimmer to win the same event in three Olympics.
On Friday night, Norwegian Olympic Committee chief Jarle Aamboe carried a photo of Dale Oen on the inside of his suit jacket near his heart during the opening ceremony in what the delegation considered
Dale Oen's world title was the first by a Norwegian, and he had to beat Kitajima to do it. It was a much-needed lift for Norway, mourning the 77 lost in a politically fueled bombing of a government high-rise and shooting spree at a youth camp.
Norway never could have imagined mourning Dale Oen less than a year later.
"We're carrying him with us all the time," countrywoman Sara Nordenstam said following her heat in the 400-meter individual medley.
Nordenstam is one of three Norwegian swimmers in London, including the lone man, considered the country's future in the sport following Dale Oen's death: Lavrans Solli.
Dale Oen had been training five to six hours a day at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., during camp this spring. He went into cardiac arrest April 30, and teammates found him collapsed on the bathroom floor of his hotel. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at a hospital.
Nothing had seemed wrong. Dale Oen's death came after only a light workout and a round of golf. Teammates became worried when the swimmer spent an unusually long time in the shower and entered his bathroom when he failed to respond to their knocks on the door.
Nobody will forget what his world championship meant on July 25, 2011.
"Yes, I'm so sad," Kitajima said after his preliminary heat Saturday. "Everybody has their own feelings."
NBC Sunday Olympic Prime Time Schedule:
7 p.m.-midnight (EDT/PDT)
Swimming: gold medal finals in men's 100m breaststroke, 400m freestyle relay, women's 100m butterfly, 400m freestyle; Women's gymnastics: team competition; Women's diving: synchronized springboard gold medal final.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this story.