A bittersweet U.S. victory in men's volleyball
Hugh McCutcheon looked around the gym floor for someone, anyone, with a cellphone in his hand. The U.S. men's volleyball coach had left...
Minneapolis Star Tribune
BEIJING — Hugh McCutcheon looked around the gym floor for someone, anyone, with a cellphone in his hand. The U.S. men's volleyball coach had left his in the locker room, but he could not wait another minute to call his wife, Elisabeth, and share his gold-medal moment.
The U.S. men won the Olympic tournament with a hard-fought 20-25, 25-22, 25-21, 25-23 victory over Brazil only 15 days after Elisabeth's parents were attacked and her father killed in Beijing. With the family's initials etched on their shoes, the Americans shoved aside the pain of the past two weeks and filled their coach's heart with a joy. As the players embraced and wept, McCutcheon put his hands to his shaven head, walked off the Capital Gymnasium court and took a deep breath.
Then he borrowed a cellphone to call Elisabeth, who had been watching on television back in Minnesota. Hours after funeral plans were announced for Todd Bachman, McCutcheon's team took him to the other end of the emotional spectrum with U.S. volleyball's first Olympic gold in 20 years.
"I called Wizzy, and she said, 'You won! You won! You won!' " McCutcheon said. "We were just listening to each other smiling on the phone."
The unexpected victory helped lift a touch of the sadness that had veiled the U.S. volleyball delegation since the Aug. 9 attack. The Bachman family was touring Beijing's Drum Tower when Todd and Barbara were stabbed in an apparently random attack by a man who then committed suicide. Todd was killed, and Barbara is recovering steadily from serious abdominal wounds.
The Games represented the culmination of McCutcheon's four-year project to remake the American team. The medal was the Americans' first gold in men's volleyball since its back-to-back Olympic titles of 1984 and 1988. McCutcheon had encouraged his players to step outside the shadow of the U.S. glory days of the 1980s and create their own identity and legacy. His development of a selfless culture and strong team spirit helped the U.S. to a stunning victory in volleyball's World League.
"From the first set, everybody believed in it," said U.S. player Gabriel Gardner. "We were making incredible plays. It's like the story came true. It happened. This is how it should end."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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