US women's volleyballers end eventful Olympics with no regrets
BEIJING (AP) With all the pain they endured and all the triumphs they celebrated, the U.S. women's volleyball team has no regrets about heading home from Beijing with a silver medal.
Their Olympic saga, marked by the stabbing death of a former teammate's father as well as coach Jenny Lang Ping's return to her homeland, ended Saturday night with a loss to Brazil in the final match.
"No disappointment," Logan Tom said. "There's no disappointment. If we would have come out today and not fought, I might have a different answer, but we fought our hearts out. So I have no kind of regret. I'm happy with this thing around my neck right now and I will be forever."
The 3-1 victory gave the Brazilians their first gold medal. They won a tight and tense deciding set for the 25-18, 18-25, 25-13, 25-21 win.
Brazil, making the team's first-ever appearance in an Olympic final, finished the tournament without a loss. China beat Cuba 3-1 earlier in the day for the women's bronze medal.
The Olympics started on a tragic note for the U.S. team when Todd Bachman, the father of former U.S. player Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman McCutcheon was fatally stabbed Aug. 9 at a popular Beijing tourist site by a man who then committed suicide. Her mother was seriously injured in the attack.
Bachman was also the father-in-law of U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon, whose team will face Brazil Sunday for the gold medal.
Against that backdrop, the Americans embarked on an improbable run to the gold-medal set, where they finally met their match in a talented Brazilian team.
In the final set, Brazil went up 15-13 on Sheilla Castro's spike, but the United States scored three straight points to go ahead. Brazil challenged, but couldn't pull back in front until Marianne Steinbrecher's spike knocked over Tom and made it 21-20.
Brazil scored the last four points and won it when Tom's spike sailed out of bounds.
The U.S. women bound quickly together in a tight hug. Tears in their eyes, they raised their clasped hands upward.
Brazil danced and mugged for the television cameras, draped in Brazilian flags.
"They had to stop our best player," U.S. captain Lindsey Berg said. "She (Tom) is our best player. She's not going to tip. She's going to go up and swing. That's what she did, she got us here and I'm happy she swung."
Brazil, the No. 1-ranked team in the world going in, rolled undefeated through five preliminary pool matches before beating Japan in the quarterfinals and host China, the defending Olympic champions, in the semis. They had not dropped a set coming into Saturday night's final.
The United States went 4-1 in pool play, then defeated second-ranked Italy in the quarterfinals before a stunning three-set upset of former powerhouse Cuba to advance to the final.
The U.S. women have never won a gold medal. It won the silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and a bronze in 1992.
The Chinese closely watched the U.S. team because of the return of Lang, who was met by thunderous applause on Saturday.
As a player for the Chinese national team, she was known as the Iron Hammer for her powerful spikes. She became a sports icon in China - on the level of Michael Jordan in the United States - for leading the Chinese team to prominence with a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics with a final-match victory over the United States.
Her fans followed the U.S. team when they weren't cheering for China. Chinese President Hu Jintao attended a preliminary round match between the two teams, which the Americans won.
After Saturday's match, Lang was noncommittal about returning to the team, saying she was going to take a vacation and spend time with her daughter.
Lang was steady in guiding the team after they were shaken by Bachman's death the day after opening ceremonies.
Many on the women's team had played with Bachman McCutcheon in the 2004 Athens Games. Her parents were boosters, often accompanying the team to tournaments.
The two teams responded to the tragedy with small but heartfelt gestures. The men wrote the Bachmans' initials on their shoes. The women penned "Wiz" on their arms and shoulders during matches.
Everything, in the end, spurred the women to the final.
"We definitely exceeded expectations of others, but deep down inside we knew we could be here," Berg said after the medal ceremony. "Definitely the tragedy thing with the Bachmans brought us even closer. Beating China brought us closer. We just kept growing from there and definitely improved as a team each match."