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Community Commentary:

Playing through the pain of tragedy

August 11, 2008|By Michael Villani

We awoke here in Beijing to an overcast sky and light rain, a fitting environment for the somber mood felt by everyone who had heard about the stabbing death of American Todd Bachman, father of former Olympian Elisabeth Bachman-McCutcheon and father-in-law to USA men’s volleyball Coach Hugh McCutcheon.

After a successful opening Saturday night on the court, where the American women defeated Japan in four games, I came back to my hotel room very late. My dear friend Vince had e-mailed me about an incident at the Drum Tower and had I heard anything?

I hadn’t, not even from the members of the American women’s team I had talked to that evening. The story began to unfold in the media in the early morning hours. I called the match Sunday afternoon between the USA men and the Venezuelans.

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Hugh wasn’t on the court, as we all knew he wouldn’t be.

Assistant coach Ron Larson took over, and the guys came out on top after five grueling games.

I talked to Hugh’s assistant and UCI men’s volleyball Coach John Speraw just before the match. We discussed the tragedy, Barbara’s condition, how Hugh and Elisabeth were holding up and the mood of the team as they played their first match in these Olympics without their head coach.

He said they were ready, and they were. You could see the determination on their faces after every bone jarring serve, after every rally, after every crushing spike.

From my announcing table next to the court, I could feel they were doing this not only for Hugh and Elisabeth, but also to show the world that in the face of unthinkable tragedy and sorrow, America doesn’t buckle, doesn’t fold.

I called Steve Churm, owner and president of Orange County’s Churm Media, who’s here with his wife Cinda and three daughters. They’re a big volleyball family and recently had dinner with Hugh and Elisabeth at an Olympic send-off in Anaheim.

We discussed how this senseless tragedy could have happened after such a glorious beginning to the games.

The rain came harder the next day. I know, like many of us, the Chinese don’t like adversity, so I saw this storm as a cleansing. I saw the storm as a rebirth to the memory of Todd Bachman as a starting point to the flawless competition these proud people have worked so hard for.


MICHAEL VILLANI is a contributing writer to the Daily Pilot, and as the venue announcer for indoor volleyball in Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, he will file occasional columns.

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