Hugh McCutcheon coached the underdog U.S. men’s indoor volleyball team to a gold medal Sunday – then put his head in his hands. It was an understandable reaction to an extraordinary Olympic Games that saw McCutcheon handle personal tragedy and team elation with an equal amount of grace.
Just a day after the opening ceremonies, McCutcheon’s father-in-law, Todd Bachman, was attacked and killed in Beijing. Bachman’s wife, Barbara, was severely injured, and their daughter, Elisabeth “Wiz” McCutcheon – Hugh’s wife and a former member of the US women’s indoor volleyball team – flew back home with her mom to care for her.
Before the gold medal match-up against powerhouse Brazil, “[My wife] sent [the team] an email just to wish them luck,” said McCutcheon. “She just wanted to let the guys know that she was pulling for them and that her whole family was proud of what we were achieving here.”
The team continued to rally around the McCutcheons. “This win doesn’t bring back Todd,” said opposite hitter Clay Stanley. “Our prayers continue to be with her family and we know that this is a very bittersweet time, but we’re just really happy for coming out on top.”
Elisabeth watched the match on TV and called her husband as soon as it was over. “She said, ‘You won, you won, you won!’ ” he told reporters. “There’s nothing left to say there. We were just kind of listening to each other smile on the phone.”
In his remarks at the conference, McCutcheon reflected on his roller-coaster emotions. “On the one hand, my heart aches for my wife and our family and for the loss. On the other hand, I’m extremely happy and proud for my team and for USA Volleyball and all that we’ve achieved over these four years,” he explained. “So those are the two emotions I have, and they’re real conflicted, obviously …. I’m excited to get on a plane tonight to get home to my wife and see her family.”
Asked if the gold medal provides any solace, McCutcheon said, “This doesn’t change it. We can’t bring Todd back …. But I can enjoy this and I can mourn Todd’s death – and I will be able to deal with both of those emotions.”