LONDON (Reuters) – When number 20 David Smith came on for the United States volleyball team in Sunday’s straight sets win over Serbia, the “David Smith Rule” took effect for the Olympic champions.
Smith, 27, has 80-90 percent hearing loss, described by doctors as severe to profound, and he plays with aids in both ears. When he goes for the ball, other team mates leave it.
That’s the David Smith Rule.
“My university coach and the assistant coach here formed that David Smith rule so that I wouldn’t be running in to everybody,” Smith, who uses lip reading to understand his team mates, told reporters, smiling.
“At this level, we have such great athletes that we can figure it out. We do get it wrong, but that’s on the practice court rather than out here in front of everybody!”
Smith is at his first Olympics and comes to London with the United States aiming for a final victory that would make them the first men’s team to win four Olympic gold medals and successfully defend their title twice.
It was a comfortable start at Earls Court on Sunday, easing past 2011 European champions Serbia 25-17, 25-22, 25-21.
At six foot, eight inches, Smith has a jump and physicality well suited to a game increasingly made up of giants at international level. Sweat, though, is one of his main enemies.
“If I am wearing my hearing aids in a match and I am sweating a lot my hearing aids can shut down, it’s pretty much silent out there for me,” says Smith, who has worn hearing aids since he was three years old.
“I can hear vibration from the crowd and maybe read lips, but with balls flying around and six people on the court, you’re not going to be able to look in everybody’s faces and read what they’re saying to you.”
Growing up, Smith, who now plays volleyball professionally in France, went to a public school after his parents realized hearing aids would enable him to interact with children. His parents would also go through class video tapes with him to repeat the day’s lessons.
“Obviously there were and still are times when I wish I wasn’t like this… But it’s not been that much of a setback because I’ve been successful. I was able to go to regular university and I have a degree in civil engineering,” he says.
“The world has come so far with medical problems that we are adapting and incorporating, so anyone who wants to play, let them play.”
(Editing by Jason Neely)