'Beyond Unthinkable': Kenyan swimmer Jason Dunford
Photo: David Gonzales, '93/Stanfordphoto.com
By Sam Scott
In 2008, Jason Dunford became one of two Kenyan swimmers ever to qualify for the Olympics. The other was his brother, David, ’10, MS ’11. Jason, ’09, MS ’12, reached the finals in Beijing. The HumBio grad holds several Kenyan swimming records, and counts among his accomplishments a fourth-place finish in the 100M butterfly at the 2011 Shanghai World Championships. Dunsford swims in the 100-meter butterfly on August 2.
You Tweeted “Thanks, Coach” after Cardinal men’s swim coach Skip Kenney2 announced his retirement. How did his coaching prepare you to be an Olympian?
Where do I start? Skip taught me so much over the course of my Stanford career and beyond. I arrived at Stanford as a walk-on with a time in the 100 butterfly that was pretty ordinary. By the time I graduated I had placed fifth at the Olympics, held [an] Olympic record [Editor's note: Dunford briefly held the Olympic record during the trials], won a gold at the World University Games and become the sixth fastest performer in the history of the event. I think that tells a lot about how Skip's and Ted's [Knapp, ‘81] coaching moulded me from an average competitive swimmer into one that could compete with the best in the world. Skip helped me build an efficient butterfly stroke, and the Stanford training, hard as it is, gave me new levels of fitness and strength. The team-first ethic that Skip instilled into the Stanford program for more than 30 years helped drive me even further. I was privileged to be one of his captains, a role that helped me to develop better leadership skills. All this combined to give me the confidence to arrive at big international competitions from a small, non-traditional swimming nation [Kenya] and compete on a par with the best.
What would an Olympic medal mean for the sport in Kenya and in Africa?
Most of my achievements in the sport have been firsts for Kenyan swimming and some even firsts for African swimming (such as the first African man to reach the 100m butterfly final at an Olympics). There are already youngsters in Kenya striving to emulate my achievements and I think in a few years we could see more swimming champions, besides my brother and I, emerging from Kenya. What we have done is unshackled minds as to what is possible as a Kenyan swimmer. When we were growing up, it was beyond unthinkable that a Kenyan swimmer would ever qualify for the Olympics, let alone make the final. Kids swimming in Kenya today can dream big because there is a roadmap to greatness that they can follow, if (and it is a big if!), they are willing to put in the work and make the sacrifices.
Your and your brother David, who also qualified for the Olympic team, seem very close. What do you each do while the other is competing?
We have trained together throughout our lives and as a result are very close. We both want the other to succeed even when we compete against each other. We were lucky to be on two school-record breaking relays together during our Stanford careers, something we will cherish for the rest of our lives. We always try to watch each other compete and provide constructive post-race feedback. We know each other so well that we know the exact emotions the other is feeling at each moment. I feel very comfortable being at competitions with my brother. He is a very calming influence and often if he has a good race before I swim, it gives me great confidence that I too will be able to perform that day.
You went to high school in the United Kingdom. Is there any “home-pool” advantage? I imagine you’ll have a sizable contingent of supporters.
I am not sure there will be much of "home-pool" advantage since we represent Kenya, but that said we will feel very comfortable being in the U.K. Hopefully this in itself will help us keep our pre-race jitters under wraps in the days leading up to our races. We have a lot of high school friends who live and work in London, so having their support will definitely be a positive. My parents, older brother Robert, and my fiancé, Lauren Finzer, ’09, will also be coming to watch, and having them there will be very special.
Do you have pre-race rituals?
I am not a superstitious person but I have been working closely with a clinical hypnotherapist. Since I began working with him, and using his mind relaxation techniques, I have become a lot better at controlling my pre-race anxiety. This enables me to enter into a flow state on demand such that I can perform at my best when it counts.
- Be the first one to add a comment. You must log in to comment.
- 2012 STANFORD OLYMPIC ROSTER
- All Business: Rower David Banks
- Goal, Gold: Soccer's Rachel Buehler
- Doubling Down: Tennis Players Mike and Bob Bryan
- Get Faster: Rower Jake Cornelius
- Grappling for Gold: Wrestler Matt Gentry
- Redemption in 26.2 Miles: Marathoner Ryan Hall
- Twister: Diver Kristian Ipsen
- America's Hope: Synchronized swimmer Mariya Koroleva
- Hurdles Cleared: Hurdler Amaechi Morton
- The Comeback Canadian: Swimmer Tobias Oriwol
- Defending the Kiwis: Soccer's Ali Riley
- From the Pool to Ethiopia: Austrian Swimmer Markus Rogan
- Power Player: Water Polo's Jessica Steffens
- Flying to London: Pole Vaulter Katerina Stefanidi
- The Fighter: Gymnast Kristina Vaculik
- Always in the Pool: Water Polo's Peter Varellas
- 'So Far From Done': Beach Volleyball's Kerri Walsh
- "It's Go Time": Diver Cassidy Krug
The Effort Effect
Let Me Introduce Myself
Seeing at the Speed of Sound
Dunder Mifflin Going Out of Business
Data is from the past two weeks.