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Grieving U.S. opens its Olympics by holding off Venezuela

8/10/2008 - Olympic Sports

BEIJING -- A United States' men's volleyball team still
reeling from the stabbing death of the coach's father-in-law opened
Olympic play Sunday with a 3-2 victory over Venezuela.

Coach Hugh McCutcheon was not on hand as his team won 25-18,
25-18, 22-25, 21-25, 15-10, a day after Todd Bachman was fatally
stabbed at the 13th-century Drum Tower, a popular Beijing tourist
site. McCutcheon's mother-in-law, Barbara Bachman, was also stabbed
and remained hospitalized Sunday in critical condition.

McCutcheon's wife is former Olympian Elisabeth Bachman
McCutcheon, who played for the U.S. women's team at the Athens
Games and was with her parents when they were stabbed by a Chinese
man who then leapt to his death from the tower's balcony.

"We really felt the loss as one of our own," said U.S. captain
Tom Hoff. "Maybe that's why it hurts so much. It hit so close."

The men briefly linked arms and bowed their heads beforehand,
but there was no outward show of emotion. After the match, American
Riley Salmon jumped into the arms of teammate Clayton Stanley, and
the players acknowledged a standing ovation from many in the stands
with waves, then left the court quickly without talking to
reporters.

Assistant coach Ron Larsen was named the team's interim head
coach before the match.

The American men are ranked third in the world behind powerhouse
Brazil and Russia. Last month, the team claimed the FIVB World
League title, a first for the men, with a victory over Serbia in
Rio de Janeiro.

They had little trouble at the Capital Indoor Stadium Sunday
until the third and fourth sets, when the Venezuelan men were
boosted by entire sections of yellow-shirted fans chanting
"Ven-e-zue-la!"

"I don't think anyone's mind was wandering," Salmon said. "In
volleyball, if you let up, the other team takes advantage."

Stanley led the U.S. team with 22 points. Ernardo Gomez had 17
to lead the Venezuelans, who are making their first Olympic
appearance.

Larsen, formerly the head coach at UC San Diego, is in his
fourth season with the U.S. men's national team. He said there was
effort to keep everything about the game as normal as possible
without McCutcheon.

"It has never been a one person show," he said. "We've always
been talking about team -- and that goes for the coaches, too."

A spokeswoman for USA Volleyball, B.J. Evans, said McCutcheon
could return at some later point during the games.

Before the game, men's team liaison Rob Browning said the men
never considered dropping out.

"That was never a question," he said. "We knew we just had to
deal with it."

The team heard about the stabbing a day before the opener, when
McCutcheon was called away from practice at Beijing Normal
University. Later that evening they spoke with their coach via a
conference call to the athlete's village.

Todd Bachman was remembered fondly as a supporter of both men's
and women's volleyball.

"The best we can honor them is to go out and play hard,"
Larsen said.

While the men largely went about business stoically on Sunday,
the U.S. women were emotional in a victory over Japan the night
before. Logan Tom sobbed as she talked about tragedy. She was one
of several players on the women's team who played with Bachman
McCutcheon in 2004.

In other matches during the opening of preliminary play Sunday,
Italy defeated Japan 3-1 (25-19, 25-18, 23-25, 25-17), Russia
defeated Serbia 3-1 (20-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-14) and Brazil
defeated Egypt 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-18).