Back in the Old Days--and not so Old Days--each event at a swim meet was started with a pistol. That's right, someone said, "Take your mark," and then--BANG--shot off a pistol. (Using blanks, of course.) The timers were supposed to start their watches when they saw the smoke from the gun, since light travels faster than sound.
One of the first things I did when I became our team's "A" rep back in 1991 was purchase one of those newfangled starting machines. Yes, the Colorado (the brand we purchased) was expensive, but to me it was well worth the money. I am not a fan of guns in any form and I'd heard tales--apocryphal or not--of young swimmers crying and parents becoming deaf in one ear from firing off the pistol. I figured my chances of keeping the 8 and unders on the team and of recruiting their parents to become starters would be much better if we put away the gun.