US men's volleyball team opens Olympics with win

Aug. 10, 2008, 2:53 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) 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," U.S. captain Tom Hoff said. "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 an 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), Brazil defeated Egypt 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-18), Bulgaria defeated China 3-1 (25-20, 25-21, 26-28, 25-19) and Poland defeated Germany 3-0 (25-17, 33-31, 25-20).