Date: May 03 2012
THE sporting world suffered the shock of another high-level athlete to collapse from a suspected cardiac arrest when Norwegian champion swimmer, and an Olympic Games favourite, Alexander Dale Oen was found dead during a training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, earlier this week.
Breaststroker Dale Oen, who was 26 and presumably in prime fitness as he readied himself for London, was found collapsed on his bathroom floor after teammates became worried when the swimmer spent an unusually long time in the shower and entered his bathroom when he failed to respond to knocks on the door. The Norwegian swimming federation said Dale Oen had gone through a light training session and also played some golf during the day.
As of yesterday, it was still unclear what led to the cardiac arrest.
Japanese star and Olympic rival Kosuke Kitajima and American former world champion Brendan Hansen led the early tributes to Dale Oen.
''You see a kid in his prime and never think anything like that could happen,'' Hansen said. ''All of a sudden, they're gone. You can't help but feel sad.''
Dale Oen's death comes after English Premier League club Bolton's Fabrice Muamba miraculously survived a heart attack during a FA Cup quarter-final, being revived after 78 minutes, and Italian soccer player Piermario Morosini died during a Serie B game.
But, according to Australian experts, the reason apparently fit and healthy athletes, who have trained and competed at the highest levels for years, suddenly die of heart attacks largely remains a mystery.
Professor Chris Semsarian, a molecular cardiologist at the University of Sydney, said research pointed towards a genetic problem, usually previously unidentified, as the underlying reason for most of the deaths, although other causes were possible.
''We know very little about why an athlete who has been working away for 10 or 15 years without a problem then drops dead on a particular day,'' Semsarian said. ''No one in the world knows the answer definitively but we do believe that genetic heart conditions play a significant role.
''If you exclude any drug overdoses or anything like that then the most likely cause in these athletes is an underlying genetic fault, a fault that they're born with that they don't know about and triggers an electrical rhythm problem of the heart and that can lead to cardiac arrest.''
Some countries such as Italy have enforced screening of athletes, as young as high schoolers, by way of an electrocardiogram [ECG], examination of the person's family history and physical exams. However, other countries such as the US have shied away from mandatory testing because of the legal risk that could arise should a person be banned or advised not to compete on the basis of the testing, particularly if the result was proved to be a ''false positive''.
Associate Professor David Prior, from the University of Melbourne and St Vincent's hospital, is conducting a study of up to 1000 elite athletes to determine whether mandatory cardiac screening should be considered. He recently attended a conference in Dubai where leading experts discussed the issue.
''I think that screening remains a controversial issue around the world,'' Prior said.
''Even with these world experts there is still controversy about whether routine screening is effective and what sort of screening it should involve.''
Both professors believe the provision of defibrillators at sporting venues would make a difference.
''[It would be a] life saving initiative to have public access defibrillators in all sporting venues,'' Semsarian said.
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