The greatest volleyball player of the 20th century
The current coach of the 2014 World Championship-winning USA women’s team, Charles “Karch”Kiraly won three Olympic gold medals, spanning both volleyball and beach volleyball, and was named player of the 20th century.
Charles Frederick Kiraly grew up in Santa Barbara, California. Before emigrating to the USA, his father Laszlo was a member of the Hungarian junior national volleyball team and instilled a passion for the sport in his young son on the beaches of California. After consistently shining on his high school side in Santa Barbara, “Karch”, as he was known, enrolled at UCLA, where he majored in biochemistry and debuted for both the UCLA Bruins in the NCAA Championship and the USA youth side. With the Bruins, Kiraly won titles in 1979, 1981 and 1983, going unbeaten in two full seasons and falling to just five defeats in total. He was named the NCAA’s outstanding player in 1981 and 1982 and earned All-American honours on four occasions, playing for a side made up of the best college volleyball players.
Double Olympic gold
An attacking serve receiver and an excellent passer, Kiraly went on to become the greatest volleyball player in America, and then the world. He moved up to the senior national team in 1981 and continued to impress in a side that won the gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games with a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the final. After taking over the national team captaincy, Kiraly led his side to victory in the 1985 World Cup and then the 1986 World Championships in France to seal an exceptional “triple crown”. Later that year, he was named as the best player in the world by the FIVB for the first time. At the Seoul Games in 1988, meanwhile, the USA won every one of their matches, culminating in a 3-1 win over the USSR in the final. Kiraly was named as the tournament’s best player before once again being named as the greatest player in the world at the end of the year.
Hitting the beach
After initially continuing his professional career in the Italian Championship with Il Messaggero Ravenna, where he won a series of titles including the national championship in 1991 and the CEV Champions League and European Supercup in 1992, Kiraly turned his attention to beach volleyball full-time in 1993. The player continued to find success and, when the IOC added beach volleyball to the programme for the Atlanta Games, Kiraly won his third Olympic title alongside Kent Steffes on 28 July 1996 after sealing a 2-0 victory over American pairing Michael Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh. As well as winning the first ever Olympic beach volleyball gold medal, Kiraly remains the only player to have won gold in both versions of the sport.
In 2001, the FIVB named Kiraly and Cuban middle blocker Regla Torres as the greatest players of the 20th century. He continued to dominate global beach volleyball tournaments until 2007, eventually retiring from the sport at the age of 47 before quickly making the transition to a coaching role for the national team. Kiraly, whose surname fittingly means “King” in Hungarian, was assistant coach of the USA women’s volleyball team that took silver at the 2012 London Games before later taking over as head coach with a view to achieving success in the 2016 Games in Rio.
In October 2014, Kiraly’s USA women’s side claimed their first ever world championship title after beating China 3-1 in the final in Milan. “We came here to make history and that’s what we’vedone,” he enthused.