American swimmer Marcus Titus may be deaf, but he’s one of the fastest swimmers in the nation. And when USA Swimming decided not to use hand signals to start races in the Olympic trials last month, he was just as quick to remind them their rule book said otherwise.
The resulting reversal was a victory for Titus, as well as deaf athletes everywhere. Although Titus missed making the Olympic team by .79 of a second and subsequently retired from competitive swimming, his campaign to make USA Swimming honor their rule book may go down as his greatest success.
Titus was referring to USA Swimming rule 105.3, which instructs referees how to use a strobe light or arm signal to start the race when deaf or hard of hearing swimmers are competing. The rule also allows for referee to reassign swimming lanes so that deaf or hard of hearing competitors can more easily see the visual start.
Titus can hear with the help of a hearing aid and also uses a sign language interpreter. Without hand signals to start the race, Titus would have to rely on watching other swimmers take off from the platform, possibly slowing his time by the fraction of a second he would need to win.
The National Team swimmer, who attempted to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events, started a Facebook page to rally for the change and provided a template on his blog for other deaf swimmers to send to USA Swimming officials. He said he wanted to make a change for deaf swimmers to make the races fair for all competitors.
USA Swimming had originally decided not to use hand signals for the Olympic trials because they would not be used at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. FINA, the world governing body for the five aquatic disciples of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming, and open water swimming, does not provide “ready” and “set” hand signals to accommodate swimmers with hearing impairments.
Following Titus’s official complaint, USA Swimming issued this statement:” USA Swimming will use hand signals at the upcoming Olympic trials in order to accommodate our deaf and hearing-impaired swimmers. We thank National Team member Marcus Titus for bringing this issue to our attention. USA Swimming embraces an inclusive culture and is pleased to be able to accommodate our athletes with hearing impairments by making this change. The ruling is in accordance with USA Swimming rules [Article 105.3]. Meeting the needs of our athletes remains a top priority for our organization, and we are pleased to take this action.”
Swimmers must satisfy criteria for disability according to rule 105 in the rule book before they qualify to request a visual start. USA Swimming also includes accommodations for swimmers who are blind or have cognitive and/or physical disabilities.