London Olympics: Karch Kiraly still making impact on volleyball

Assistant coach Karch Kiraly of the United States celebrates a win over China with Megan Hodge.
(Elsa / Getty Images)

LONDON — There’s no coastline for miles, no sand in sight, but Karch Kiraly seems fine.

He logged many years under the sun in beach volleyball but headed back indoors as an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s volleyball team.

Just like his playing career, it’s been eventful.

He’s one victory from adding another gold medal to his collection and also witnessing history. The U.S. plays Brazil on Saturday in the women’s volleyball final, seeking its first gold medal in a sport that debuted in the Olympics in 1964.


PHOTOS: 2012 London Olympics | Day 15

“It’s something new, and to me that’s refreshing and challenging,” Kiraly said. “I absolutely have learned a ton the last three years. I’m really excited to rise to this challenge in a sport that I’m so passionate about, obsessed about.”

He was pretty calm about it when he joined Coach Hugh McCutcheon’s staff in 2009.

A cerebral player who had seamless technical skills — setting, passing, deft shots — Kiraly watched for a while before sharing his thoughts.

“In the beginning he was a little more quiet, feeling out what he could provide for us. Throughout the years, he’s become a lot more verbal and really has helped our team, especially me,” said setter Lindsey Berg.

No one ever won more men’s pro beach volleyball championships than Kiraly, 148 in 22 years before he retired in 2006. His career as an Olympic athlete ended with three gold medals — indoor in 1984 and 1988, and beach volleyball in 1996.

“Karch is very humble. He doesn’t bring that up often,” Berg said. “He’s never brought the gold medals around. I’ve never met somebody that has accomplished so much that is so humble.”

Kiraly, 51, logged some time in the broadcast booth, providing volleyball commentary for NBC in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, but it was only natural for him to return to the indoor game.

He was unforgettably solid at UCLA as a player, leading the Bruins to three NCAA championships before starting his indoor career with Team USA.

He’s been helpful tactically with the women’s team, telling Berg what opposing blockers are doing so she has a better idea where to set teammates. He also insists that players think deeply about the game only on the practice court.

“He encourages us to play free,” Berg said. “If you think too much, you’re not playing your game. During practice is where we prepare and during games we get free.”

Kiraly’s daily 35-mile commute from San Clemente to the team training facility in Anaheim has added up to a lot of miles. It’s also extended Kiraly’s volleyball impact.

“To be able to get all those phases, it’s awesome. I can stay in the game for a long time,” Kiraly said. “Now I get a different vantage point and I’m really enjoying myself. We enjoy the process a lot. I think you can see it in the athletes’ faces.”


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