LONDON (AP) — In the face of unimaginable tragedy, Hugh McCutcheon led the U.S. men’s volleyball team to an Olympic gold medal in Beijing. Four years later in London, he coached the women’s team to a silver.
And with that, McCutcheon is leaving USA volleyball.
“I feel privileged to have been able to do the things that we’ve done and been able to work with the athletes I’ve gotten to work with,” he said. “It’s been unbelievable.”
The U.S. women under McCutcheon were ranked No. 1. The favorite heading into London Games, the team didn’t drop a match until the last one to an inspired Brazil team.
While the Brazilians did summersaults across the floor of Earls Court, U.S. teammates Foluke Akinradewo and Jordan Larson sobbed.
“I’m as sad about it as everyone because there was that goal (of winning the gold),” McCutcheon. “At the end of the day, I don’t think we did anything wrong. I just think we got outplayed in the final chapter.”
McCutcheon’s time with the national team was marked by horrific loss and unlikely triumph.
Before the opening ceremony in Beijing, McCutcheon’s father-in-law was stabbed to death at a Chinese tourist attraction by an attacker who then killed himself.
After taking a short leave from his team to be with his wife, former Olympian Elisabeth Bachman, McCutcheon returned and led the men undefeated through the competition to an upset of favorite Brazil for the gold.
He moved to the women’s side in the lead-up to London, looking to steer the women to their first gold medal in the sport.
Long before the Olympics, McCutcheon said his intention was to leave the national team to coach the women’s volleyball team at Minnesota. He’ll start this fall.
“He’s taught us a lot and he’s an amazing coach and he’s going to be great in college as well,” captain Lindsey Berg said. “He’s shown that by bringing a men’s and women’s team to the gold-medal match. He’s incredible and I respect him, the whole team does.”
Berg is also leaving the national team after three straight Olympics as the team’s setter. Berg, who injured her left Achilles tendon during the Olympics, said the sport’s toll on her body is one reason she’s retiring.
But the team also got a glimpse of its future in 24-year-old Destinee Hooker, the second-leading scorer among all players in London.
The U.S. men’s team will likely look much different, too. The defending Olympic champions were knocked out by Italy in the quarterfinals. There would be no repeat.
Coach Alan Knipe returns to Long Beach State, which gave him a leave of absence to run the national team. Four of the team’s main players, including three-time Olympians Clay Stanley and Reid Priddy, are over 34, meaning they likely won’t be there for Brazil.
But like the women, the men’s team sees promise in 24-year-old Matt Anderson, who finished with a team-leading 82 points in London.
The Russian men took home the gold with a comeback five-set victory over Brazil. The Brazilians were denied match point twice in their bid to join the women as Olympic gold medalists heading to the 2016 Rio Games.
It was Russia’s fourth gold in the sport, but first since 1980 when the former Soviet Union won in Moscow. Italy won the men’s bronze with a victory over Bulgaria, and Japan won the women’s bronze by beating South Korea.
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