Hard of Hearing Athletes of the 2012 Olympics – True Champions!

Robert Traynor
August 7, 2012

Last week Hearing International discussed hard of hearing Olympians of yesteryear. This week we concentrate on athletes with hearing loss who are participating in the 2012 London Games. As of August 7, the Gold medal count for the USA was 29,  3 medals behind China and 10 ahead of the next closest competitor, Great Britain.


One of the USA standout teams in the 2012 Olympic Games is Men’s Volleyball.  The fifth-ranked U.S. men weren’t considered among the medal favorites at the London Games, but they had claimed silver in the recent World League tournament before opening the Olympics with dominant straight-set victories over Serbia and Germany.  The  Middle Blocker for team USA is David Smith of Saugus, California.  David, who was born with hearing loss on May 15, 1985, is an essential component of a the US Volleyball team as well as a Civil Engineering student at the University of California, Irvine.  In fact, the UC Irvine volleyball coach John Speraw (an Assistant Coach with the USA Team) had the ”David Smith Rule” for his star middle blocker.  According to Coach Speraw, ”That means, `When David wants it, David takes it, because in the middle of a play, you can’t call him off.”   In volleyball there is probably enough distance between players  that the instruments do not amplify the sound enough to facilitate communication relative to the plays.

Smith has a profound hearing loss (80-90%) and has worn hearing instruments since age 3.   Smith says of his hearing loss that the main problem is when he sweats a lot the hearing aids go out.  “But I just got these [probably the water resistant instruments made now by most manufacturers] before the Olympics and I don’t seem to have any problems,” he said, raising both hands to his ears.   ”Every once in a while it affects me,” Smith said. ”But this is the only way I’ve ever known how to play.”  He primarily communicates using his amplification and lip reading to understand his teammates, but in volleyball but face-to-face communication is not always possible, thus the David Smith rule.   It was easy for Speraw to institute the rule at Irvine because when Smith gets the ball, he knows just what to do with it.  ”He’s mitigated any issues he has by being a great all-around volleyball player.”

At 27, Smith is a first-time Olympian and was something of a surprise addition to the U.S. team in London. The 6-foot-7 middle blocker was not on the roster when the men qualified for the London Games at the NORECA qualification tournament in May.  As for the late appointment to the team Smith (in the Center of the photo) said, “It has been a crazy summer, that’s for sure, there were some opportunities that came up for me to show what I could do, and I think I did a good job with that. I wasn’t counting on being here, but I knew I was capable of being here.

Now that the preliminary rounds are over,  it is time for the remaining eight men’s Olympic volleyball teams to step up their game if they want to secure a medal.  Team USA took home the gold in 2008, while Brazil secured the silver, and Russia the bronze. All three  teams have advanced to the quarters once again this year, and will look to match or surpass their performances from four years ago.   Argentina, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria, and Germany will also have their say before all is said and done.

At HHTM and especially at Hearing International, we are pulling for David and his team’s success at the 2012 London Games. They play in the Quarterfinals on August 8, 2012 on NBC.

Another Olympic Athlete in London mentioned in Hearing International last week, Chris Colwill, had a bad round of diving.   After botching one dive in the 3-meter springboard semifinals in London, American Chris Colwill decided to go for it. His attempt failed, and he scored zeroes.  Colwill, a two-time Olympian, got as high as ninth Tuesday before botching his last two dives. He finished last among the 18 semifinalists with 170.35.  On the dive he botched Colwill said, “Instead of going with the aggressive attitude, I played it too safe.”  Colwill appeared well on his way to making the final when he didn’t come out of his tuck on an inward 3 ½ somersault tuck quickly enough. He smacked the water and got scores from 2.5 to 3.0 for his fifth dive.  “I just kind of zoned out. I stood on the board for too long,” he said. “It was a freak accident and just happened at the wrong time.”

Knowing he was out of contention heading into his last and toughest dive — a reverse 3½ somersault tuck — Colwill thought go big or go home. “I went with the attitude of 100 points or no points, and I guess I got the no points,” he said.  Congratulations on making it to the USA Team ….Again!   Super attitude Chris!

As predicted Tamika Catchings has been a leader on the USA Basketball team.  We discussed her background last week but today Team USA’s victory over Canada was decisive.  SB Nation said that the victory over Canada looked more like an early pool-play game because of Team USA’s dominance. Suffocating defense forced turnovers on Canada’s first four possessions and 26 overall, which led to 33 points.dominant 91-48 quarterfinal victory over Canada extended to 39 an Olympic winning streak that indeed began Aug. 7, 1992 — when the U.S. beat Cuba in the bronze-medal game — and set up a semifinal matchup with familiar foe Australia.

The U.S. has defeated Australia in the gold-medal game at the last three Olympics. In other words, as Lennon and McCartney might say, get back to where you once belonged.  “Playing them earlier than the gold-medal game will be interesting,” Tamika Catchings said. “But it will probably be played like a gold-medal game.   Watch the Women’s Basketball Semi-finals August especially follow the success Tamika Catchings and her USA teammates, Thursday August 9.

Congratulations to ALL the Olympic athletes worldwide……Especially those that have overcome disabilities such as hearing loss on their way to success.





  1. Other not-so-well-known facts about UC-Irvine:
    2011 NCAA Volleyball champions
    UCI Football team is undefeated

  2. Hi, Bob

    Thank you for highlighting the U.S. athletes who are not letting hearing loss prevent them from being outstanding Olympians.

    To give Chris Colwill his due, readers should note that he scored well in the preliminary round of diving–well enough to make the semifinals. There he was well positioned to make the final until he missed his second-to-last dive. But it was still an excellent performance. Meanwhile, let’s root for David Smith and Tamika Catchings to win gold in their team sports.

    1. Robert Traynor Author


      I have not checked the comments section for some time. And Chris did do well in the opening rounds. I appreciate his guttsy view that he was going for all or nothing! Looks like I missed one other hearing impaire olympian that did not show in the searches…Dean Barton-Smith in the 1992 Decathalon. He just did not come up in the searches.

      All in all a very successful olympics…


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