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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

"I would love to be playing in Manhattan one more time. That was my plan, and it's really disappointing not be playing," Kiraly said. "But my doctor said, 'Wow, Karch you can try to go play in Manhattan, but you'll make it a lot worse and miss the whole rest of the season.'"

Kiraly, widely considered to be the sport's top athlete, is the only volleyball player in Olympic history to win three gold medals. He won the first two as a member of the U.S. indoor teams in 1984 and 1988, and won the gold medal in beach volleyball in 1996 in Atlanta with Kent Steffes. He's won more titles and more money (more than $3 million) than any other athlete in the sport.

Kiraly has mixed feelings about leaving the tour. His body has been summoning a break for years, while the voices in his head make it difficult to walk away from a challenge.

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"My mind is ready to go on, but I want to have something left to continue to play this game that I enjoy so much, not just for another year, but for years and years to come, and so for that reason, I have got to stop," Kiraly said. "It's just taking too much out of me each and every weekend to have every serve come at me, to pass every ball. My partner sets every ball, and I have to take every offensive attack.

"Everyone's picking on me 'cause I'm the old man out there, and I'm not complaining about it. I relish the challenge. But it takes a ton out of me, and I can't just keep doing that to my body. My mind could keep going all day long. You give me a new body, and I could go for another 20 years out here, and do it well."

Kiraly isn't walking away from volleyball so much as he his walking away from the AVP. This summer, he's launching the Karch Kiraly Volleyball Academy, a developmental academy for high school-age girls. Kiraly is also hosting the inaugural U.S. Open of Beach Volleyball next month at Huntington Beach, where more than 1,000 players are expected to compete. He envisions a tournament with a broad range of ages and skill levels for people who simply love playing beach volleyball.

"The AVP tournaments are very difficult to get into," Kiraly said. "There are only 24 teams in the main draw, at most. And then, only another eight teams will qualify and enter the main draw through the qualifier. This process is a much more open qualification process. Anybody from any part of the country can enter it. It's kind of an everyman's national championship."

Kiraly also coaches his sons' volleyball team at St. Margaret's Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, and he'll continue his broadcast duties as a commentator for NBC Sports.

St. Margaret's competes in the same league as Sage Hill School.

"I'm as busy as I've ever been and for that reason, I don't think of it as a retirement at all," Kiraly said. "It's the beginning of an exciting new phase for me in my volleyball career … I almost have to stop playing just to have time for all these other things."


SORAYA NADIA McDONALD may be reached at (714) 966-4613 or at soraya.mcdonald@latimes.com.

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