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Men's volleyball team overcomes early tragedy to claim gold

Published: Monday, Aug. 25 2008 12:15 a.m. MDT

Americans Ryan Millar, center, and William Priddy celebrate with coach Hugh McCutcheon, left.

Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images

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BEIJING — When Ryan Millar and Rich Lambourne first joined their U.S. men's volleyball teammates on the medal stand Sunday to receive their gold medals, they got a little "pointed," throwing index-figure acknowledgements to their head coach Hugh McCutcheon.

And after the anthem was done playing, the first thing Lambourne and Millar did was to jump off the stand and each embrace McCutcheon, whose associations with the pair date back a decade when he was a BYU assistant coach and they were starring for the Cougars in the 1999 NCAA championship run.

Coming long after the U.S. had rallied from being one set down to a four-set victory over Brazil in Sunday's tournament finals and the ensuing celebration on the Capital Gymnasium floor, the gestures and the embraces were their first post-match interactions.

"I just wanted to tell him, to make sure that I told him thanks so much for all his work and to share with him a little bit of the moment as best as I could," Lambourne said.

With the match won and the celebration started, McCutcheon ducked into a nearby arena tunnel, trying to juggle the joys of guiding his team to the gold medal and still dealing with the vicious stabbings of his in-laws at the Beijing Drum Tower on the first day of the Beijing Olympic competition.

Todd Bachman died of his injuries and Barbara Bachman was hospitalized in Beijing for nearly a week until she was stable enough to be flown by air ambulance to the United States.

Elisabeth "Wiz" McCutcheon, a former U.S. women's team member, was present at the attack but not injured. She returned to the States with her mother.

"You dream about winning a gold medal — we've invested so much of our life into this pursuit, and to have it pay dividends is amazing," said McCutcheon. "I've been trying to deal with and compartmentalize so much of my emotions the last couple of weeks, and so finally the filters came down — I was able to get out and kind of take a few deep breaths and bring it back."

That's why Millar and Lambourne initially missed McCutcheon — they weren't going to miss him again.

They understood McCutcheon's early tournament absences and dealt with the awkwardness and the constant reminders during the two-plus weeks of Olympics.

Millar said he hoped the gold-medal results bring solace to the Bachmans and McCutcheons.

"I hope they know that a little piece of this was dedicated to them and what they had to go through," he said, adding, "the fact that we could do this for them and ease the pain a little bit and maybe bring a little bit of joy into their life at this difficult time is something that's pretty special as well."

Clayton Stanley led the U.S. with 15 kills, while David Lee had a team-high five blocks in the 20-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-22 victory Sunday afternoon.

Millar had eight kills and three blocks, while Lambourne added a tied-for-team-best 12 digs.

For the three-time Olympian Millar, it was his first medal — in fact the first for the U.S. men's team since a 1992 Barcelona games bronze.

"If you want to make a case for working hard and being good, take a look at our team," Millar said. "We're not the biggest guys, we're not the fastest, and we're not going to hit it the hardest. But when we come on the floor, we're going to bring it."

But Millar didn't want to go completely maudlin with the trying circumstances.

"This could be the storybook ending that we all have been wanting, but it's not really all that," he said. "It's about us playing hard and doing what we came here to do."


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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