News of Attack Jolts U.S. Women's Volleyball Team
Sunday, August 10, 2008
BEIJING, Aug. 9 -- The call went out quickly to the members of the U.S. women's volleyball team Saturday afternoon, a beacon of alarm cutting into their last moments of freedom before a match later in the evening. The message: Return immediately. A team meeting had been called.
Once gathered at the Olympic Village, the 12 women sat bewildered as their coach, "Jenny" Lang Ping, stood before them in tears and tried to deliver the news that the parents of one of their former teammates, Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman, had been attacked earlier in the day. Bachman's father, Todd, was dead, his wife in critical condition.
Lang struggled to find appropriate words. Several times, she broke down until finally another coach finished the announcement.
A chill went through the room. The players wept with Lang.
With a match looming just five hours after the meeting, the players somehow had to find their composure and prepare. They moved about the dorms in a fog, many still crying, changing for the game and wondering if they would be doing some kind of tribute, a black armband, something. They were told they could not.
"You never expect something like that," outside hitter Kim Willoughby said after the team beat Japan, 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-21), in their first match played late Saturday. "It was hard to process it."
Todd Bachman was a popular figure among the players, flying to games, cheering them on and leaving little notes of encouragement. Even after their daughter left the team and married Hugh McCutcheon, the head coach of the men's volleyball team, Bachman and his wife, Barbara, would visit the players and laugh.
"I told them they had to be strong," Lang said after the match. "We have fans that love us, and we have to show that spirit. It's very difficult for your players but you have to move on. We only had hours to get ready to play."
For Lang this was especially difficult. Beijing is her home town, and the arena in which the match took place, Capital Gymnasium, was a place where she had played many times. What should have been a triumphant return instead became a struggle to absorb a random act of violence on the Drum Tower, one of the city's most cherished landmarks.
"This is the first time in my life to deal with this before a game," she said. "I have to have patience and let our players get over it, to help them deal with it."
Somehow they did, even after winning the match's first of five sets, dropping the second before rallying in the third and fourth to win. Willoughby said she has long been able to enter a match with many things on her mind and then put those aside when play begins. And while she was able to do this Saturday, she was also rattled by the brutality of the attack by a man who then committed suicide by jumping off the building.
"You kind of accept it more when it's a natural occurrence," Willoughby said. "But you don't accept it when it's violence. Then to be a coward and kill himself, come on, he just ruined an entire family. Ridiculous amounts of people are affected by that."
The players did not know that Elisabeth Bachman was with her parents when they were attacked at the Drum Tower, located in the middle of the city, and witnessed the stabbing.
"Now you know it's more disturbing," Willoughby said. "She's a very good Christian girl, but now you have to think, 'What if it wasn't her father, it was her?' "
Some players said they really didn't prepare much for the match after hearing the news. The strategy meeting planned for Saturday evening was canceled. Many players phoned their parents and families in tears.
On the match's final point, Willoughby jumped up to block a Japan player's spike, and the American women shrieked. They laughed and hugged, and then they remembered Bachman and were in tears again.
"It was very tough for everyone" Willoughby said. "The thing about it is I can come in with a lot of things on my mind, but when I start to play, I can put them all aside and focus on one thing."
On Saturday night, that provided relief, at least for an hour and a half.