Kiraly sets sights on Nanjing World Grand Prix Finals


Karch Kiraly looks on as his team play China in Preliminary Round Pool E1 in Macau

Nanjing, China, July 31, 2017 - It's a busy time with the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships Vienna 2017 presented by A1 in full swing in Austria and the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix Finals about to begin in Nanjing, China.

And as the top six teams in this year's edition of the World Grand Prix Finals prepare for action, there is one man who connects volleyball and beach volleyball like no other - Karch Kiraly. The American made history as a player both indoors and out. The only player to have been an Olympic Games gold winner in volleyball (1984 and 1988) and in beach volleyball (1996), the “FIVB Best Player of the 20th Century” - now the United States coach - will hope to lead his team to victory in Nanjing.

Kiraly never imagined he would become a volleyball coach. "I could foresee myself having some frustration in trying to help people do what I tried to do on the court and maybe having some challenges in trying to transmit that,” he once said in an interview. In the end, it was his wife Janna who convinced him to give it a try.

Kiraly’s sons Kristian and Kory played at a small private school in San Juan Capistrano, California about ten years ago and lost match after match. "They really did lose everything," explained Kiraly. "They lost every match 0-3, and lost every set."

So, Kiraly's wife asked him to do something for his children. And the next season, the team won their first match. "They celebrated as if they had won the championship," said Kiraly, reminiscing. In the end, the team even made it to the championship game.

It was also the start of the next chapter in Karch Kiraly’s career.

As assistant to Hugh McCutcheon he won the silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and then went on to become head coach. And Kiraly was quick to get results with the American team. A World Championship title followed in 2014, and a bronze medal finish ensued at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. And the 56-year-old has his sights set on gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Kiraly tries to give his players one guiding principle in particular, which brought him incredible success as a player: "If you don’t improve yourself, you will get worse."

But Charles Frederick Kiraly - his full name - has always remained grounded. He was honoured to be dubbed the “Michael Jordan of volleyball”, but wasn’t really interested, as he revealed in an interview ahead of the Rio Olympics.

“I don't think of yesterday, or a year ago, or ten or thirty years ago. Currently, all I can think about is how I can be a better coach. My work and my great passion in this sport now is leading the United States women's team. I've had success as a player and now I’m trying to make the US women’s team better every day. I try to be the best coach I can, and it requires a lot of learning, the same I had as a player, only in a different way.”

And it is this attitude that has made the man with Hungarian roots a star in the hall and on sand.

“I started volleyball very early, at the age of six. My father played volleyball and he set out to teach me when I was little. He was born in Hungary and played on the Hungarian Youth team.

"When I was very young I played a lot of beach volleyball, and it’s the best game to teach volleyball, better than on the court, because there are just two people and you have to touch the ball on every play that comes to your side of the net. You have to see more and react more, and have to cover a larger area. So you have to have a good view of the court to learn how to see the game correctly,” said Kiraly, explaining his background.

“I was 13 or 14, having already played beach volleyball for seven or eight years, when I started playing indoor volleyball. So I had a real advantage. I played indoor volleyball for many years, but even when I was in the United States national team, from 1981 to 1989, even during those eight years I still played beach volleyball from time to time, because I loved this sport.

"When I finished my career in indoor volleyball, I came back to the game that was my first 'teacher'. Actually, I never really stopped playing beach volleyball, so it was easy to go back to the sand and have a nice career.”

Kiraly became the first ever winner of a beach volleyball gold medal at the Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta alongside Kent Steffes. With 148 career titles to his name, he remains the player with the greatest number of wins in the history of the sport. He won at least one tournament in 24 of the 28 seasons he played in a career that spanned four decades.

After his playing career in the sand ended, Kiraly soon made his mark as a volleyball coach. And as a wanderer between volleyball worlds, he has now returned indoors.

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