In the locker room of Beijing's Capital Gymnasium this summer, members of the U.S. men's Olympic volleyball team interrupted their greatest moment of celebration for a moment of silence, a private tribute for a fallen family member whose memory they had just honored with the most stirring victory in the team's history. One by one, the players reached out to
On Aug. 9, the day after the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, McCutcheon's wife,
McCutcheon's players, medal contenders but certain underdogs for gold, rallied around their coach and their extended family. McCutcheon left the squad for its first three victories in the preliminary round, putting assistant coach
With volleyball's waning popularity and its best players shifting to the beach game, it had been 20 years since a U.S. indoor team had won Olympic gold.
McCutcheon returned for the single-elimination medal-round contests. First the U.S. rallied from two-sets-to-one down in the quarterfinals to beat Serbia, then survived a five-setter in the semis against Russia. After his team dropped the first set of in the final, 25-20, against Brazil, the U.S. coach spoke to his players in a measured manner without ever tugging on emotional strings. "We were glued to his words," team MVP
The U.S. rallied to take the next three sets by scores of 25-22, 25-21 and 25-23, trailing at various points in each game. McCutcheon joined in the on-court frivolity as best he could, then preceded his players into a hallway before breaking down. " I've tried to compartmentalize my emotion after what happened," he said later, "but at that moment the filters came down. It was the best of times and the worst of times."
McCutcheon and his team, who brought out their best in the face of the worst, are a worthy nominee for Sportsmen of the Year.