For U.S. men's volleyball, a gold medal after tragedy

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U.S. men's volleyball team celebrates finals victory over Brazil.

BEIJING - The official Olympic Web site made no mention of it as it announced the U.S. victory. China Daily, the official state newspaper, also had nothing. It was as if Todd Bachman was never slain at the start of the Olympics, or his wife Barbara badly hurt. It was as if Hugh McCutcheon was just another coach of another gold-medal team.

But in the real world - where McCutcheon's mind wandered to immediately after his U.S. men's volleyball team upset Brazil yesterday - his father-in-law was indeed stabbed to death as he toured Beijing's Drum Tower with his wife and daughter (McCutcheon's wife, Elisabeth) at the onset of these Olympics 2 weeks ago.

In that world, the gold medal was less about a dream realized, but rather an obligation fulfilled.

Funeral arrangements for Todd Bachman were finalized on Saturday. Services will be held Friday.

"We need to get home and get on with that now," McCutcheon said after gathering his thoughts and emotions. "My work here is done."

There was thought that McCutcheon's work here would end 2 weeks ago. McCutcheon missed three matches as he and Elisabeth waited out the teetering days of Barbara Bachman's recovery. Once her condition stabilized, Bachman and her daughter flew to their home in St. Paul, Minn.

Elisabeth urged McCutcheon to stay. A former Olympic volleyball player, she wanted his team to take its best shot. The U.S. team came into this tournament ranked third in the world, but with a reputation for not sealing the deal. It didn't win a match in Sydney. It finished a disappointing fourth in Athens.

It's why McCutcheon, a New Zealand native, was hired.

McCutcheon felt that obligation as well. So he returned in time for the Americans' last two matches of medal play and this improbable gold-medal run.

"It hasn't been easy, not that it was ever going to be easy," he said. "But when you throw in the emotional load that the team has had to bear collectively - for them to come through and be this good is a wonderful achievement."

And amazing focus. The United States lost the first set in the final, 25-20, then won the next three sets by even tighter margins. The difference - a spike here, a save there - seemed, at the end, to be the difference between playing well and playing well with emotion.

"For him, it's got to be a full circle," U.S. player Scott Touzinsky said of McCutcheon. "Coming here 4 years ago, he instilled a sense of belief in our team that we could come back. At that time, I think we were eighth in the world . . . We didn't win a lot of tournaments. It took a couple of years until we started to win some big events."

"This match is a culmination of a vision and dream that Hugh gave to our team 4 years ago," team captain Tom Hoff said. "It seems so very far away, but he talked about it with great conviction. His ability to say we need to believe it before it will happen, and then that we will need to do the work - he impressed that upon us."

And when that belief finally became reality, when they had won their improbable gold medals, the U.S. players acted accordingly - they ran all over each other, and ran all over the stands that held their family and supporters.

McCutcheon, meanwhile, hugged his coaches and slid out of view for a while. Alone in his own reality, and thousands of miles from it as well.

And then his phone rang.

"She said, 'You won, you won, you won,' " he said of the call from his wife. "Nothing else to say there.

"Just listening to each other smile on the phone." *