BEIJING – A knife-wielding man. An unprovoked attack. A husband dead and his wife in critical condition. Their daughter, a former U.S. Olympian, at the scene of the crime where the assailant jumps 130 feet to his death and everyone is left to wonder.
The question remains unanswered in part because details of the attack remain scarce. But a portrait of the victims that has emerged after a series of interviews helps explain why a deep, personal grief has swept across pockets of the United States and rocked the tight-knight world of volleyball.
“It’s like losing part of your family,” said Nancy Metcalf, a member of the 2004 U.S. women’s volleyball team.
Their names are Todd and Barbara Bachman. Their daughter Elisabeth played for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, and their son-in-law, Hugh McCutcheon, is the head coach of the U.S. men’s volleyball team. Their story begins when UCLA’s volleyball coaches arrived in 1995 at the Bachman home in suburban Minneapolis hoping to sign Elisabeth, then one the nation’s most coveted recruits.
The front door swung open, and so did the Bachmans’ arms. They greeted UCLA’s coaches with an embrace and took them on a tour of a home lined with family photos.
“They immediately made you feel so at ease, as it if was your home too,” said Andy Banachowski, UCLA’s head coach.
Recalled UCLA assistant coach Kim Jagd, “We were selling the Bachmans on UCLA, but they truly wanted to get to know us.”
The Bruins landed their prized recruit, and the folks in Minnesota could have told the coaches what they were getting. Elisabeth started playing volleyball as a seventh-grader and her parents turned the house into a gathering spot for the teams and chaperoned them on trips.
The Bruins weren’t getting just a star player; they were getting an entire family.
Photo Elisabeth Bachman plays for the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion in October, 1998.
(Donald Miralle /Allsport)
Todd and Barbara Bachman showed up to UCLA’s games – virtually every one, home and away – and entrusted their large-scale Minneapolis-based floral business to other family members. At the volleyball team’s potluck dinners, they brought a special homemade confection.
“Bachman bars,” the Bruins called them, and they became as much a fixture of the program as the couple from Minneapolis.
“You knew 30, 40 minutes before the game they would be there, smiling and cheering,” said Michelle Quon, one of Elisabeth’s former teammates at UCLA.
Their disposition manifested itself when their daughter, who goes by the nickname “Wiz,” took the court.
UCLA’s coaches watched with amusement as Elisabeth soared above the net time and again, driving spikes at her opponents.
“The first thing she would do is apologize to the player for hitting somebody,” Banachowski said. “And it wasn’t sarcastic. It was a genuine remark, a reflection of Wiz’s parents.”
During every visit to the campus, they greeted the coaches and players with hugs and a fresh batch of those homemade treats. When Elisabeth graduated from UCLA in 2000, the family handed out the recipe, and the Bachman bars spread.
Elisabeth made the U.S. national team. She was part of a squad that ascended to No. 1 in the world and arrived at the 2004 games expected to win the gold. Instead, they won only three of six matches. But even after defeats, there were two grinning fans waiting for them.
“Go get ‘em next time, girls,” the Bachmans would say.
Around the holidays, the family’s countless fans received Christmas cards bearing a picture of Todd and Barbara squeezed around their daughter during the Opening Ceremony, expectations and medals be damned.
“They had just as much fun watching Wiz play volleyball as Wiz had playing volleyball,” said Amy Hughes, who handled publicity for the UCLA teams on which Elisabeth starred.
Six years after Elisabeth graduated from UCLA, the Bruins arrived in Minneapolis for two games and Todd and Barb Bachman were in the crowd and cheering as if their daughter were still on the team. Her career ended when she retired shortly before marrying McCutcheon in 2007, and the Bachmans adopted his team as if were part of their family.
A week ago Elisabeth spoke to Metcalf, who has known the Bachmans since she first played with Elisabeth in 1999 on a U.S. national junior team. During the conversation, Elisabeth mentioned she was particularly excited about going to Beijing to watch her husband’s team compete because her parents would be joining her.
Their two other daughters live on either side of the Bachmans’ house, while volleyball has taken McCutcheon and Elisabeth to Southern California.
“She was so happy that her parents were going to be there and she was going to get to spend some time with them,” Metcalf said.
So on Friday they traveled together to the Drum Tower, a popular tourist attraction in Beijing. Then came the knife-wielding man, the unprovoked attack and as soon as officials announced that Todd Bachman, 62, was dead and his wife, Barbara, had undergone surgery and was in critical care, the frantic calls and questions began.
Of all people, why the Bachmans?
Hughes, who grew close to the family at UCLA, wrestled with her emotions. Like others, she found herself thinking of the bitter tragedy and sweet memories.
“I want to stop everything right now and find the recipe for the Bachman bars,” she said.
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