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BEIJING 2008 : MEN'S VOLLEYBALL

First mourning, then an opening victory

August 11, 2008|K.C. Johnson | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING -- With the crowd screaming and emotions swirling, the U.S. men's Olympic volleyball team formed a circle on the Capital Gymnasium floor and did something unprecedented.

They didn't speak.

The solemn moment of silence contrasted sharply with the hugs and smiles that came late Sunday afternoon when Clay Stanley's blocked spike fell out of bounds, finally securing the U.S. team's five-set, opening-match victory over Venezuela.

Yet the tribute served a necessary purpose in exorcising grief as players and coaches struggled with the loss of Todd Bachman, father-in-law of Coach Hugh McCutcheon.

Bachman was stabbed to death Saturday and his wife, Barbara, was seriously injured by Tang Yongming, a Chinese man who committed suicide by leaping from the 13th century Drum Tower. The Bachmans had visited the popular tourist spot with their daughter, Elisabeth, a 2004 women's volleyball gold medalist from UCLA who married McCutcheon in 2006.

Barbara remained in critical but stable condition Sunday following eight hours of surgery, according to U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Volleyball officials. The couple's tour guide was also injured.

The men's team spoke to McCutcheon via conference call from the Olympic village Saturday night. Players and coaches spoke eloquently about how much their victory would mean to their gregarious leader, who remained at a hospital Sunday while assistant Ron Larsen led the team.

"Obviously to hear his voice and get leadership from him meant a tremendous amount to myself and the guys," captain Tom Hoff said. "He's steered our squad through these last four years as we built up our team."

Larsen said McCutcheon received the news during the team's Saturday practice and left immediately. Knowing the Olympics can entail countless logistical problems and media and ticketing responsibilities, players didn't think much of his departure -- until several USOC officials arrived.

"That's when we knew something was wrong," setter Lloy Ball said. "You know, as a male sport, we tend to hide our feelings a lot. But it was definitely a moment where guys let out."

The Bachmans were fixtures on the USA Volleyball scene. Between Elisabeth's national team commitment and her marriage to McCutcheon, the Bachmans were regular visitors to practices in Colorado Springs, Colo., as well as international matches.

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