Kenya hero Dunford just 'too nice' says former coach

By sportsnewsarena correspondent
Dec 01, 2021

He might have held an Olympic record for perhaps the shortest ever time but that does not erase his name, clearly engraved, in the history of swimming.

Jason Edward Dunford lifted Kenya’s name into the world swimming arena with his breathtaking performance in the semi-finals of the 100m butterfly at the 2008 Olympics in China where he set an Olympic record of 51.14.

That lasted only a couple minutes before Milorad Cavic tapped the wall in 50.67 in the second semi-final minutes later.

Surprisingly, Dunford could not replicate such a performance in the final where he finished fifth in a race won by United State’s Michael Phelps who had lowered the Olympic record further to 50.58.

Dunford further raised the bar when he won Kenya’s first Commonwealth gold medal in swimming, winning the 50m butterfly event, after having dominated the continental championships the previous year in Dakar, Senegal.

His profile soared and Kenyans not only found a new sports professional to idolize but one from a different sport than the usual track and field. But, Dunford would soon succumb to the brightness of his own shine where he had a disappointing outing in the London Olympics in 2012.

At the Commonwealth Games earlier this year in Glasgow, he almost called it quits on his decorated career after failing to make it into the final of his favourite 50m freestyle event where he had hoped to defend the title won in Delhi.

He did, however, consider a change of heart after progressing to the final of the 100m butterfly event when he said he would return to full training.

Former coach Andrea Di Nino believes Dunford would have been one of the best swimmers ever had he been more fierce and mean in competition.

Di Nino, on the sidelines of the 2nd FINA Swimming Coaches Golden clinic here, described him as "too nice" adding: “In competition, you have to be mean; you have to want it all for yourself. "That is not something Jason had. He was too nice to everyone; he has one of the cleanest hearts I have ever come across and it would be rare for you to cross paths with him.

“On more occasions than one I thought to myself: 'He’s got to be mean and fight for himself, not caring much about others; he’s got to be selfish a bit.' But that was not Jason, I think that was one thing that hindered him from reaching great heights.”

The Italian, also currently a lecturer with the ADN Swim project, said that should Dunford quit swimming then Kenya, and Africa at large, would need close to one and a half decades to replace him: “The lad is brilliant, very dedicated and if he decides to leave the swimming career, then Kenya needs to do a lot of work to replace him.

"I think they (Kenya) should grab this opportunity that he is still active and use him as an ambassador of swimming in the country to encourage the sport and unearth other talents. He is a real gem and his expertise, knowledge and experience should be grabbed to spread the game in Kenya.”

Di Nino coached Dunford from 2010, before the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, until 2012 when he decided return to school in the United States thus interrupting his swimming career for a year.

He has participated in the FINA short course championships since 2006, having reached the finals in Manchester in 2008 in 11m butterfly.

Courtesy AIPS