Commentary

Emotion shifts in Beijing after tragedy quickly strikes Games

Updated: August 9, 2008, 8:04 PM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

BEIJING -- A city that seemingly has a police and military presence on every street corner suddenly feels less secure.

A city bathing in the afterglow of a transcendent Opening Ceremony suddenly seems less ebullient.

A city energized by the beginning of widespread Olympic events suddenly finds the competition less important.

That's the gut reaction to the jarring, tragic news that the father-in-law of U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon was killed and McCutcheon's mother-in-law seriously injured in a murder-suicide at a Beijing tourist attraction.

The Games have been lessened. The Games have been stained.

Beijing has literally moved heaven and earth to put on a good show for the world. It employed cloud seeding to ward off rain for the Opening Ceremony, and it has spent millions to build new sporting venues. It has planned everything to the smallest detail, intent on turning these Games into a showcase of what the Chinese people can do. It has staked much of its international standing on being a dazzling host.

It all came to fruition Friday night in a spectacular show that kicked off the Games. Chinese people were ecstatic as they exited the National Stadium, eager for the excitement to come.

And now this.

Now, Todd Bachman of Minneapolis is dead and his wife, Barbara, has been injured after both were stabbed near the Drum Tower, an ancient landmark in the trendy Ho Hai section of Beijing. The attacker later killed himself by leaping from the tower.

The Bachmans are the parents of 2004 U.S. Olympic volleyball player Elisabeth Bachman, who was with them at the time of the attack but was uninjured. They are prominent Minnesotans who own a large home-gardening business in Minneapolis and have endowed a chair in horticulture marketing at the University of Minnesota.

They also are beloved members of the American volleyball community, popular with players and coaches of both the men's and women's teams. Their son-in-law, McCutcheon, has been the men's national team coach for four years. The U.S. men begin play Sunday against Venezuela, and how this will affect their coach's status in these Games is not yet known.

What the Chinese know now is that even the most prodigious planning cannot prevent every bad occurrence. We don't know whether this was indiscriminate, individual violence or something larger, or whether the victims were singled out because of race or nationality. However, a U.S. State Department release Saturday said, "Based on the information available, this incident does not appear to have been a targeted attack, but, rather, a random isolated incident."

And those can happen anywhere, as most Americans know all too well. So does the rest of the world. A man recently stabbed and beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus in a remote section of Canada, seemingly out of the blue.

Bad people can do bad things almost anywhere -- even at the Olympics. The people of Atlanta learned that horrible lesson 12 years ago in the Centennial Olympic Park bombing.

That act did not define America or Americans, and this act shouldn't define China or Chinese. But for a people who have invested so much effort into these Olympics -- so much of their self-worth -- this was a devastating occurrence. Especially in a country with a low rate of violence.

Justifiable or not, Americans will be more wary now. It remains very difficult to envision any violent acts perpetrated at or near an Olympic venue, where security is highest. But other public areas cannot offer such blanket vigilance, including Ho Hai.

I visited that area Thursday night with a group of American journalists, walking the streets and stopping in a couple of bars. Tourists were everywhere, enjoying themselves in harmony with their Chinese hosts.

There wasn't a whiff of danger in the air. It was a time of celebration, a place for bonhomie.

For Todd and Barbara Bachman, it might simply have been a matter of tragic timing. Innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time, victimized during what should have been one of the great events in their lives.

As night fell around the Drum Tower on Saturday, life went on as if nothing had changed. There was no sign of a crime -- the gates to the grounds, at a busy intersection, had a sign saying the site was open 9 to 5. Couples and groups of young people strolled to and from the nightclub district, and in the dark alleys behind the tower, old men sat on corners with their shirts rolled up on their bellies to cool off. Kids dribbled basketballs and played badminton on an open concrete playground.

The blood from the attack had been cleaned up.

We'll see how long it takes for the stain to go away.

ESPN The Magazine's Luke Cyphers contributed to this report. Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.