2008 tragedy not part of Hugh McCutcheon's London story

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
3:23
PM ET

LONDON -- U.S. women's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon knows the questions are going to come. So, too, does his captain Lindsey Berg. But that doesn't mean they have to, or want to, talk about it.

It was four years ago when McCutcheon's father-in-law was murdered at a popular Beijing tourist site the day after opening ceremonies, four years since McCutcheon then gathered himself and coached the U.S. men to an emotionally charged upset victory against Brazil for the squad's first gold medal in 20 years. This is a new team. A new city. A new Olympic Games. It's time to move on.

Returning to the Olympics won't be some sort of a cathartic experience for the native New Zealander. His focus is elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeHugh McCutcheon
Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty ImagesHugh McCutcheon has been coaching the U.S. women's volleyball team since December 2008.

"When I say it doesn't matter, obviously it matters," McCutcheon said Tuesday. "But it's not part of this story. That whole side of things is very personal. It was dealt with off of this stage, that's for sure. From a professional point of view, that's the connection. But our stuff from a family point of view isn't on the world stage. The volleyball side of things is, and that's how it should be."

Berg, who played with McCutcheon's wife, Elisabeth, during the 2004 Athens Games, said McCutcheon hasn't brought up the tragedy once since taking the women's job in December 2008.

"The only time it comes up is when the press brings it up," she said. "I understand it's an interesting topic and it's a tragedy, but we don't talk about it. We never have."

The tale of the U.S. women's team is instead about McCutcheon's "mad scientist experiment," in which he has applied many of his coaching principles he learned from coaching men to the women's game. So far, it has worked, as the U.S. women, who won silver in Beijing, enter the Games as the top-ranked team in the world. The squad begins its quest for gold Saturday against Korea. Though the field is deep, McCutcheon and his team enter the tournament focused and confident.

"I feel we're playing the best volleyball right now," he said. "So bring it on."

Berg noted Tuesday that none of her teammates have used the limited free time they've had to tour London. Instead they've gone for extra treatment, therapy or just spent time together in the village as a team.

"It's a business trip for us," Berg said. "Lucky for us, our business is incredible."

McCutcheon said none of his family members will be traveling with him to these Games (though he does have a sister who lives in London) and insists he is truly ecstatic to be back.

"The one thing I can tell you is that I'm really happy to be here," he said. "I'm glad that I'm part of this Olympics. The experiences I've had are unique, but there are not a lot of people in the world who get to know what it's like to be part of the Olympic movement. I'm just so grateful."

London could potentially be McCutcheon's last Olympics. He already has accepted a job to become the head coach for the University of Minnesota women's team after the conclusion of the Games. Now that he and Elisabeth have two children under the age of 2, family is a major factor.

"My goal in life was to be a dad, not a coach," he said. "And with two young kids, I want to make sure I do right by that. I don't want to raise them on Skype."

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