NAIROBI, Kenya, September 13- “It’s not all about exposure; it’s the system in Kenya that needs to support the youngsters. We have some good coaches but they have issues with the federation on how the meets are handled, so we hope we have learnt from the mistakes of these championships.”
That is how Olympic finalist and double African gold winner, Jason Dunford analysed what ails swimming in the country after he retained his continental 50m butterfly title on at the on-going Africa Swimming Championships at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
The Commonwealth champion who is the only local swimmer to clinch medals (2 Gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze) at his home continental championship was expressing his sentiments on the need to have a strategic plan that will see the Kenya Swimming Federation (KSF) maintain a regular pool of participants for all international competitions.
“It’s in early days for the young swimmers and I know some may have plans to train outside which will give them more exposure to high levels of competitions.
“They will see the kind of opposition they are up against, which was really beneficial to me since I got to compete and train regularly with people who are better than me,” asserted Dunford who will be going for a final medal in the 50m freestyle on Sunday.
With the swimmer who has competed for his nation at the Beijing and London Games hinting he will step down from the pool in 2016 after the Rio Olympics, KSF are racing against time to ensure the nation is not wiped out of the global swimming radar.
Jason’s outlook was echoed by South African head coach Graham Hill who travelled to the tournament without any of the swimmers who participated in London but still managed to lead his nation to the top of the medal standings from the opening day.
“We have a system in place back home where we pick various squads and expose the juniors to the different tournaments even taking them to several of them overseas.
“They are able to experience certain levels of competition so by the time we bring them to an event like this, then they are ready for it,” the former swimmer said.
Hill, with 26 years of coaching experience revealed he has shifted focus to the next Olympics in Rio as he outlined his plans with upcoming talent as his priority.
“For 2016, we are looking for girls between the age of 11-14 and boys aged 14-16 who we brought along to this competition to begin gaining the experience.
“However, we also have the older generation here to win medals for us and probably at their last African championships hence they have the chance to end their careers on a high,” he added.
Even though, the sport plays second fiddle in popularity to rugby, soccer and cricket, Hills is positive that after their impressive results in London, the sport will grow to greater heights with the solid structures they have put in place.
“We have various levels, from zero for those just joining the sport and then we have progressive levels 1-3 before you move to the youth programs and finally the senior nationals.
“We have our own provincial and national championships besides making sure we participate in the Commonwealth, World Championships among others,” said the father of two.
The tactician however pointed out the notion that Kenya is an athletic nation has seen many youngsters growing up wanting to join track and field but noted with the rise of the Dunford brothers, the country had the opportunity to have more taking to the pool.
He was quick to agree with the elder Dunford sibling calling upon more utilisation of the available facilities in the country particularly now with the urge to have more disciplines participating in the next Olympics edition in Rio 2016.
“This complex is really good, with only a few adjustments to it, I would like to come here with my team for a training camp since you have a good attitude too,” he said of the pool that is rarely used by KSF owing to its prohibitive costs and lethargic maintenance.
If the lessons from the South African experience can be taken into account, we would be assured of steady talent that would pass on the baton and avoid scenarios where the country is thrown into a panic with the absence of Jason and younger brother David who missed the Nairobi showpiece due to sturdy commitments.
Kenya was virtually unknown in the global swimming arena until the children of Martin and Geraldine Dunford came to the fore during the 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers as the family’s personal investment on the pair reaped dividends.
Unlike their compatriot swimmers, the Dunford brothers have trained in USA, Dubai and Italy with their restaurateur parents footing the huge bill involved with little help from KSF or the Government.
Kenya’s Assistant coach Lindsey Takunnen said she was happy with the progress her young swimmers (between 14-17 years) have made in the event with improved times and quick adaptation to new training regimes they have replicated in the pool.
“Since most train in shorter metre pools, the results they’re posting here are quite impressive, however we need to involve them in more competitions to prepare them for Rio,” added the former Zambia national team coach.
However, their progression to fill the Dunford brothers’ shoes will be limited if the sufficient investment is not made on their development.