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Big-Time Volleyball Has Arrived : Kiraly and Other Olympic Stars Are Competing at Forum

Times Staff Writer

Karch Kiraly draws a distinction between the U.S. men’s volleyball team, which won an Olympic gold medal at Seoul, and the U.S. men’s basketball team, which didn’t.

“It proves you can’t assemble an all-star team and expect to win the Olympics,” Kiraly said. “We’ve known that for 10 or 15 years.”

Kiraly needs no introduction, which says what successive gold medals have done for his sport. Top players can generate 6-figure incomes in a pro beach volleyball league, then go to Italy or France and earn $200,000 and up for 6-month seasons.

Volleyball players, plowing their incomes into comfortably liberal trust funds, no longer live at the beach in the backs of vans. Many are driving luxury cars and buying their own homes, sometimes with cash.

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Like track and field athletes, they are pros in amateurs’ clothing, and it’s all on the up and up. Were it not for the time it takes to prepare to win another gold medal, they could have done even better.

“You could play year-round and make a lot of money,” said Kiraly, 27, who, with wife Janna, recently bought a home in San Clemente.

“But we all made this choice 2 years ago to stay with the program and play in the Olympics. We wanted one U.S. men’s team to win a team sport.”

Besides baseball, which was a demonstration sport, volleyball was the only one.

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“You have to look at the intangibles,” Kiraly said. “I thought it would be worth it. I think it was worth it.”

Kiraly, voted the most valuable player at Seoul, estimated that the financial sacrifice costs the better players up to $500,000. But now they are back to work.

Kiraly, of the KLSX Classic Spikers, and Olympic teammates Steve Timmons, of the Labatt’s Blues, and Dave Saunders, of Team Maui & Sons, are captains of 3 of the teams in the third Great Western Team Cup Volleyball $100,000 tournament that started Tuesday night at the Forum. The other captain is Sinjin Smith of Team Toyota, the all-time leading money winner in beach volleyball.

Tuesday night, Maui & Son beat KLSX Classic, 30-27, 19-30, 11-6; and Labatt’s Blues defeated Team Toyota, 26-30, 30-22, 11-9.

Doubleheaders starting at 7 are also scheduled Thursday night, Sunday and the next Tuesday and Thursday, with the consolation and championship matches Sunday, Oct. 23.

Other ’88 Olympians playing include Ricci Luyties, Eric Sato, Jon Root, Jeff Stork, Troy Tanner, Bob Ctvrtlik and Doug Partie.

Kiraly said of the Seoul Games: “We went in with such high expectations of ourselves that this time wasn’t as fun, certainly, as 1984. We surprised ourselves in ’84 when we thought we could win a major tournament but hadn’t yet until we won the gold medal. This time we felt relief at having won and fulfilled everybody’s and our own expectations.

“Besides that, the Koreans ran a great tournament. I know some other sports had some problems. I thought the volleyball ran very smoothly, except maybe for not starting the bronze-medal match early enough so it wouldn’t affect the starting time of the gold-medal match.

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“I didn’t feel as euphoric as 1984, but I think it was a greater accomplishment to win without the home-court advantage and with almost all of the best teams there. It was a much stronger tournament than 1984. The only team we missed was Cuba.”

Kiraly guessed the Cubans would have finished anywhere from third to seventh.

Timmons, the MVP of the ’84 victory, said: “The biggest difference I realized was it seemed like this took forever to get to the final match. The tournament started on the first day of the Olympics and ended on the last. In ’84, we were excited with any team we beat, whether it was Tunisia or Egypt or whoever, we were so hungry to show everyone how good we were.

“Since then we’ve been through a lot of battles and won most of them. The biggest difference was the pressure building up: ‘You guys are favored. How come you’re not killing everyone?’

“We struggled a little bit, and when it was over, instead of having a bunch of beers and going out and going crazy, we dropped. Just from the emotional and physical drain of 2 weeks of concentrating on this tournament, I was real tired.”

Saunders said: “Before we left for Seoul, everybody was saying, ‘No problem, you guys are going to bring the gold back.’ A lot of us were feeling if we didn’t beat everybody 15-zero every match, we weren’t reaching expectations.

“Once we got to the gold-medal match and won, I thought everybody was going to the Hilton to party. I just went back with my wife to the dormitories. I felt bad because I wanted to go out with these guys, but then I found out they did the same thing. Steve and I sat next to each other on the plane home and did our celebrating there.”

The U.S. team will reunite for a rematch with the Soviet Union in a tournament in Japan Oct. 28-Nov. 4, but it won’t be the same.

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“At this point, it’s not important at all to me,” Kiraly said. “And I’m going to have a hard time making it important. Our seasons aren’t like most sports, where the climax comes at the end. With us, the Olympics are much more important than anything else.”

Saunders, who will turn 28 next week, said he has played in his last Olympics, but Timmons, 29, said, “I’m going to stick around and milk it.”

Kiraly?

“I’ll ride Steve’s coattails and get some extra handouts,” he said.


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