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BEACH VOLLEYBALL : Celebration Cut Short for Kiraly

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The $250,000 Miller Lite Championships in Hermosa Beach were marred by a freak accident shortly after the final between the top-seeded team of Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes and fourth-seeded Eduardo Bacil and Jose Loiola.

After winning the match, 11-7, Kiraly and Steffes took the stage to deliver speeches and receive trophies. As Kiraly stepped back to switch places with his partner and take the microphone, he fell through about a two-foot gap in the stage’s rear.

He plunged about six feet to the ground and hit a steel beam that supports the structure with his back.

Kiraly never lost consciousness, but was taken to South Bay Hospital in Redondo Beach on a stretcher with a plastic cervical collar in place.

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“At first I was in amazement and total shock,” Steffes said. “It was the strangest thing that has happened on this tour. All I could do was stand there with my mouth open.”

Steffes, who was at his partner’s side immediately after the fall, said Kiraly was alert and talking.

“He never hit his head,” Steffes said. “He was concerned at first, then a litle embarrassed . . . at the end he just wanted to get out of there.”

Peter Rathje, the first paramedic to see Kiraly after the fall, said Kiraly did not appear to have any serious injuries. “He wanted to get up and move around,” Rathje said. “He was just very embarrassed.”

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A spokesman for the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals said preliminary X-rays showed no serious injuries, but that further tests would be conducted.

Announcer Paul Sunderland, who was among those who accompanied Kiraly to the hospital, said he was released after about two hours. “He’s got some abrasions and a sore back but otherwise he’s OK,” Sunderlund said. “He just called to say he is fine, so that’s good news.”

A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Kiraly has been on that stage many times. He has 94 career beach titles, including the last three season-ending championships in Hermosa Beach.

Earlier this season, Kiraly suffered a bruised kidney after hitting a court-side banner while diving for a ball.

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He sat out four tournaments and six weeks of training.

In this weekend’s event, however, he was back in top form. Kiraly and Steffes will split $100,000 for their victory and Bacil and Loiola will split $22,500.

“I haven’t even thought about the tournament for one moment,’ Steffes said. “The only thing on my mind was Karch. . . . But he should be back dancing at our banquet (tonight).”


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