Tokyo - Two-time double Olympic gold medallist Kosuke Kitajima has said the death of world champion Alexander Dale Oen has left a "big hole" in his heart before their much anticipated duel at the London Games.
"My tears won't stop," the Japanese breaststroke swimmer wrote on Twitter in Japanese late on Tuesday after learning that his Norwegian rival was found dead at a training camp in the United States on Monday at the age of 26.
"In shock over the passing of a dear friend and great rival. RIP Alex," Kitajima, 29, based in the US city of Los Angeles, later lamented in English.
Dale Oen could have stopped Kitajima's bid for a third straight 100m-200m Olympic breaststroke double in London.
"He was a great swimmer. I want to race against him again. That (feeling) had been motivating me. My heart is left with a big hole," Kitajima wrote.
Norway's swimming federation announced that Dale Oen was found dead in a shower at a swimming pool in Flagstaff, Arizona, where the country's Olympic swim team was training.
At the Beijing Olympics, Kitajima beat Dale Oen by 0.29 in the 100m. Dale Oen grabbed silver, becoming Norway's first swimmer to win an Olympic medal.
The Norwegian won the 100m in 58.71 seconds at last year's world championships with Kitajima fourth at 1:00.03.
But Kitajima stormed back at the national championships last month, winning both distances to book tickets to London.
He clocked 58.90 in the 100m, a new national record, to become the second swimmer to duck under 59 after high-tech polyurethane swimsuits were banned in 2010.
Dale Oen trained in Tokyo under Kitajima's coach Norimasa Hirai in late 2009 to learn how his rival was developing himself.
The Norwegian trained in Tokyo again last December when he said he and Kitajima were "very much the same" as swimmers.
"We'd like to race and we'd like to do our best," he told reporters, adding his duel with Kitajima in London would "definitely (be) a big challenge".