London 2012
USA assistant coach Karch Kiraly with USA wing spiker Logan Tom
Karch Kiraly won two Olympic Games in volleyball and one in beach volleyball, the only person on earth with this record
USA team ready, Karch Kiraly giving hints
Karch Kiraly listening to Hugh McCutcheon's time out
Cuba legend Regla Torres and USA legend Karch Kiraly
USA assistant coach Karch Kiraly in a time out with setter Lindsey Berg

 

From the beach to the bench: the king Karch Kiraly

London, Great Britain, July 31, 2012 – Charles Kiraly? Yes, true. Many official reports of the FIVB enlist the first name of his passport. Karch (“king” in the Hungarian language of his father) is a universal name lacking of written traces. “Well, for some reason the FIVB insists on reporting real first names, and my real first name is Charles, but I never used it. I’d prefer just Karch, but apparently that’s not possible in their form.”

London, Great Britain, July 31, 2012 – Charles Kiraly? Yes, true. Many official reports of the FIVB enlist the first name of his passport. Karch (“king” in the Hungarian language of his father) is a universal name lacking of written traces. “Well, for some reason the FIVB insists on reporting real first names, and my real first name is Charles, but I never used it. I’d prefer just Karch, but apparently that’s not possible in their form.”

However, despite of the papers, Karch is a sort of equation for our sport and sounds like a powerful logo. He’s the only player on earth who won the Olympic gold in both FIVB disciplines and the man with receiving skills so powerful that the USA based on him - winning two Olympic gold medals in a row - the famous system with two passers, which was quickly copied by all the best teams in the world.

Today Karch sits on the bench of USA women’s team beside another former USA star, Paula Weishoff, both lead by Hugh McCutcheon. They perform interesting time-outs, showing a perfect teamwork, acting like solo singers in a chorus. “We do not have any defined responsibilities” explains Kiraly. “It’s very flexible. Paula Weishoff works mainly with the middle blockers but also with others, as I work mainly with the passers and setters and with others, while Hugh works with everybody. We try to go were coaches might be needed.”

All this started among the clouds, miles over USA, just after Hugh McCutcheon decided to leave USA men’s team with the gold medal still warm on his neck. “Myself and Hugh were taking a flight to a coaching clinic and we’d been talking about some other coaching things, about him switching to become head coach of the women’s team, about my future… And all of a sudden it get him, “mmm, maybe I should ask Karch to help me on the staff for these next four years” and it was incredible. I’m very thankful to be on Hugh’s staff, to be working with him, with this group of athletes. It’s a great honour to be wearing USA colours again.”

After these years of coaching, Karch has his idea about the quick evolution of women’s volleyball. “The speed of the game is faster, people are trying to win with fast offense; not every team, but some do. We feel that our advantage is with speed and part of that comes from Hugh’s experience with the men’s game of playing fast. And then trying to be the best team, and the best piece that fits together well. The USA team in Beijing were not the biggest, the strongest, not the hardest team but they managed to outplay every other team. We try to be as good a team as we can because we will be better. It would help us win the next point more often.”

Now, back to the beach. Santa Monica, early eighties. Two legends were on the beach but they did not know each other yet. Karch was a sort of baby-sitter for Misty May. “I was not really a baby sitter” smiles Kiraly. “I was playing beach volleyball and her dad, Butch, played beach volleyball as well.  Sometimes when Misty was very young and Butch was playing he said “Hey guys, can you just keep an eye on Misty while I play this game?” And then maybe somebody else would help the next game, so it was really a group effort, it wasn’t me baby-sitting Misty May. I remember her from a tender age, she got her start on the beach early and that was a big advantage for her.”

Accuracy is probably what made Kiraly one of the greatest players ever. An example of that was during the Olympic Games in Atlanta, when Karch made his golden debut with Steffes. Probably the TV international feed was not yet started when he entered the beach volleyball venue in Atlanta for the gold medal match. What the spectators on the stand saw was Karch carefully watch behind the courtside protections, probably just to memorize the obstacles in case of a defense jump over them. Then they saw him kicking the sand for two or three minutes, just to feel it. The he launched the ball several times, to control the wind. The attention for details and his well-known memory were unique ingredients for a perfect mental preparation of each game. His teammates in the USA teams were often joking about not saying “do you remember…” when asking something to Karch: since it was useless, because Kiraly remembered everything. “The computer”, as teammate Steve Timmons used to call him, was eventually hallowed by FIVB on October 5, 2001, in Buenos Aires, as best player of the century.

“The prize is now with some other trophies at home. It was a great honour to receive it despite some confusion. I got the nomination and at some point apparently they changed, and then at suddenly it became a double award.”

The best players of the century were Karch and Italy Lorenzo Bernardi, awarded in a classy ceremony. “Good” says Kiraly today. “It was nice for two people.”

So now the best player of last century is trying to help USA achieve a new century goal: their first gold with the women after three successes with the men. “If Hugh hadn’t called me, maybe I would have been with the television, like it was in Athens and Beijing, commenting beach volleyball.”

Probably USA opponents would have voted for this option.

 

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It’s a great honour to be wearing USA colours again
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Additional information

USA changed in 1983 their system of receving the opponent serve before the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. They used only two receivers, taking the advantage of having each of them always respectively on the left or on the right side. The system was seen before, used by USSR for their junior team. However, USA were the first team to apply it steadily at senior level. While Karch Kiraly was always the key man for passing in Los Angeles and Seoul, USA paired him with Aldis Berzins for their first gold and with Bob Ctvrtlik in 1988