LONDON — Four years ago at the Beijing Olympics, New Zealander Hugh McCutcheon, amid a family tragedy, coached the U.S. men’s volleyball team to the gold medal. Now he coaches the U.S. women’s volleyball team and will try to equal that result at the London Games.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics had barely gotten under way when U.S. men’s volleyball coach learned that his wife and her parents, who were sightseeing in Beijing, were stabbed by a man near the Drum Tower landmark. McCutcheon's father-in-law was killed, and the attacker jumped to his death from the tower.
Despite the tragedy, McCutcheon was somehow able to focus on his job at hand and led the U.S. men's team to the gold medal, upsetting defending champion Brazil in the final.
McCutcheon began a new challenge after Beijing, taking over as head coach of the U.S. women’s volleyball team.
“I saw an opportunity to grow and evolve and to have this really unique experience to coach both national teams, which has been fantastic. I mean, it’s been a challenge, but it’s been awesome. I’m so, so happy to be here with this team right now,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon says all of the goals that were set for the men’s team were achieved -- the men won the world league, the Olympic gold and were dominant in their region.
Now he has the U.S. women right where he wants them to be, too. They are ranked number one in the world, having won the silver medal at the 2011 World Cup and this year winning the World Grand Prix for the third consecutive year, going 14-0.
No U.S. women’s volleyball team has ever won an Olympic gold medal, so McCutcheon says this team is on a mission.
“I like it that our team is aspiring to be the best that we can be, and we have these hopes of wining gold medals. I think that’s what you should be here for. You know, why come here if you want to get fifth. It doesn’t make any sense to us. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to do it, and we’re certainly under no illusion that just because we’ve got this ranking that all of a sudden it’s going to come pretty easy,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon’s team captain is Lindsey Berg, who will be playing in her third Olympics and who was on the team that won silver in Beijing four years ago.
Berg says the Americans welcome being a favorite this time. “I’m looking at being No. 1 as a positive. We earned it and we’re here to prove it, and I think the whole team feels that way. And hopefully, we’ll prove it again in the biggest show that we have been in, and I think it’s exciting coming in No. 1,” Berg said.
At a news conference, Berg was asked whether she and her teammates have taken in any of the London sights.
“No. We are here to win gold and we’re concentrating on that. We do have some free time, but most of us have chosen to do therapy, recover, get our minds right. And I don’t think anybody has gone out and seen the sights, even though we’ve had a little time to. But we’re really focused on why we’re here. It’s a business trip for us, and luckily our business is incredible and it’s to be part of the Olympics,” Berg said.
Coach McCutcheon does not expect any of the matches in London to be easy, and group games include defending champion Brazil and 2008 bronze medalist China.
“No question, it’s going to be a very challenging tournament here for us and for every team to that end. There’re no gimmies [i.e., easy victories]. And in some ways, I like that,” McCutcheon said.
But no doubt, Hugh McCutcheon would like it even more if his U.S. women’s volleyball team comes away from London with the gold medal.