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Kiraly king of beach

VOLLEYBALL: An icon of the sport will not play Manhattan Beach, another reason the thought of retiring has been rough.

August 09, 2007|By Soraya Nadia McDonald

The wind blowing off the Pacific was the loudest sound at Sorrento Beach, where beach volleyball's living legend sat beneath a tent.

He's a pro, for sure. Three Olympic gold medals earns the sort of credibility that doesn't just disintegrate into the sand.

At 46, Karch Kiraly has finally decided to retire from the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour, and Wednesday afternoon was a mile marker, a point where it's finally begun to sink in that yes, Kiraly is really walking away.

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His back to the ocean, Kiraly dug his feet in the sand in civilian garb. There were no swim trunks, no sand stuck to his belly or half-worn sponsor tattoos peeling off his arms, just regular shorts, a collared shirt, and a bandage wrapped around his injured left calf.

But most telling, there was no pink hat.

Beach volleyball fans may not be able to rattle off the litany of Kiraly's accomplishments — the three Olympic gold medals, the 148 titles, AVP MVP, AVP Sportsman of the Year, FIVB Best Player in the World, and countless others — but they have always been able to identify the DayGlo pink hat with Kiraly.

Lifelong fans still approach Kiraly after AVP matches, a Sharpie in one hand, and one of Kiraly's trademark hats — who knows from what year — in the other.

He started wearing the hats in 1992, when DayGlo made them in optic yellow, lime green, hot pink, and black.

"I tried the black one, but that was frying my brain too much," Kiraly said. He switched to pink, and won his next 13 straight tournaments, always giving the hat away to the first fan who asked for it.

"It was tradition and superstition and now it's a curse," Kiraly said. "I don't know when pink is going to come back in style. Now it's my pink albatross."

This season, he's brought extras to tournaments, just for fans, but has saved the ones he actually wears.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with them, but I'm just setting them aside," Kiraly said.

Kiraly injured his left calf muscle teaching at his volleyball academy last week in Virginia Beach, and elected to sit out the Manhattan Beach Open, the AVP's last stop in Southern California this season. Kiraly has won more titles at the venue than any other player, including a 2004 win with former partner Mike Lambert of Costa Mesa.

He and Lambert were named the 2004 AVP Team of the Year after capturing three titles, and Kiraly won his last title, No. 148, with Lambert in 2005 at Huntington Beach.

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