STANFORD — In 2008, Stanford’s Jason and David Dunford became the first Kenyan swimmers to qualify for the Olympics. Now, the brothers are looking to cap off their careers by bringing home the country’s first swimming medal in London.
Jason Dunford, 25, has the best chance of medaling; he finished fourth in the 100 butterfly at last year’s world championships in Shanghai, which puts him on the bubble this summer. Either way, the London Games will provide a perfect final chapter to the Dunfords’ unexpected journey from Nairobi to the Silicon Valley.
“This will be a great ending to my swimming career,” David Dunford said. “I’m not putting too much pressure on it — I have no regrets.”
The Dunfords never set out to be their country’s greatest swimmers. They only took up the sport as a means to be in the water when they couldn’t be out on the waves surfing with their father.
“We had a leg up on the other kids because we were so comfortable in the water,” Jason Dunford said.
The brothers dominated age swimming in their hometown of Nairobi, but Jason Dunford intended to quit once he left for boarding school in England as a teenager.
“We looked up to England, across to Australia, the U.S. and were like, those guys are way ahead of us,” David Dunford said. “We’re too late in the game, we’ll never make it to an Olympic level.”
Jason Dunford chose a high school without a swimming pool; but as a sophomore, a teacher who’d competed for England in the Commonwealth Games caught a glimpse of him swimming at a nearby pool.
“He said, ‘You’ve got quite a lot of talent — you might want to think about pursuing this path,’” Dunford said, adding: “I dragged Dave along reluctantly because I wanted someone to train with.”
But Dunford didn’t catch the eyes of any major colleges; he applied to Stanford for academics and was told he could walk-on if he was accepted.
As a Cardinal, he wound up being a 14-time All-American and five-time Pac-10 Conference champion between ’05 and ’09. He convinced his brother to train on the Farm, too, and David picked up 11 All-American honors of his own during his tenure.
In 2007, Jason Dunford captured more medals than any other athlete (three gold, two silver and three bronze) at the All-African games and was named Kenya’s Sportsman of the Year.
A year later, he set an Olympic record in the 100 fly that was quickly broken by three other swimmers, including Michael Phelps, taking fifth in the event. David Dunford finished 20th in the 50 freestyle.
After completing their NCAA careers, the Dunfords both enrolled in Master’s programs at Stanford (Jason in Earth systems, David in management science and engineering) and continued training with coach Skip Kenney.
Both men intend to work in Silicon Valley after the London Games are completed; but they’d eventually like to use their educations to give back to Kenya.
“At some point, I’d like to take it back and help with the development of Kenya,” Jason Dunford said.