Kiraly, Karch

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Karch Kiraly


American volleyball player

The only volleyball player in Olympic history to win three gold medals, Karch Kiraly pushed his career earnings past the $3 million mark with a third-place finish in the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) last tournament of the 2002 season. He became the winningest beach volleyball player of all time when he and Adam Johnson captured the 1999 Chicago Open, Kiraly's 140th career win. And he is not ready to call it quits yet. In an interview with CBS in October 2002, Kiraly was asked how much longer he thought he would compete as a pro. He replied: "Until it's not fun, or until we can't contend to win tournaments, or both." As well as Kiraly's been playing in recent years, it seems unlikely he ll turn his back on the game anytime soon.

Born in Jackson, Michigan

The son of Laszlo and Toni (Iffland) Kiraly, he was born in Jackson, Michigan, on November 3, 1960. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to San Clemente, California, where Kiraly grew up. When he was 6 years old, he began to play volleyball with his father, who had played the game for a junior national team in Hungary before immigrating to the United States. Asked by an interviewer for CBS if he was any good at first, Kiraly replied that "all I wanted to do at first was keep the ball going back and forth 10 times, 20, 50, and so on. So no, I was not any good when I first started, but improvement seemed to come steadily, and it was a big advantage starting so much younger than almost any other player." Kiraly entered his first beach volleyball tournament when he was 11. He played on the volleyball team at Santa Barbara High School and in 1978 was named the most valuable player (MVP) in California high schools. During his senior year, Kiraly's team was undefeated winning 83 matches. Kiraly has credited his high school coach, Rick Olm-stead, with teaching him the value of hard work and

dedication, lessons that have served him well throughout his amateur and professional careers.

After graduating from high school, Kiraly enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to study biochemistry. Playing on his college volleyball team as a setter and a hitter, he led the team to first place in its conference three out of four years. In his first year in the Pacific Rim Tournament, Kiraly was named MVP. His team played a total of 125 matches during Kiraly's four years at UCLA. A year after receiving his bachelor's degree from UCLA, he played in the Olympics, leading his team to the gold medal. At 23, Kiraly was the youngest player on the U.S. team, but he nevertheless played in all 19 games of Olympic competition, more than any of his teammates. During the Olympic Games, he connected on 74 out of 158 spike attempts, in recognition of which he was awarded the FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball) Sportsmanship Award. For Kiraly, it signaled the beginning of an outstanding career in professional volleyball.

Leads US Team to 5 Gold Medals

Over the next three years, Kiraly led the U.S.A. National Team to a total of five gold medals and one silver medal. During the World Championship in 1986, he was named "world's best volleyball player" by FIVB President Ruben Acosta. In December of 1986, Kiraly married Janna Miller, with whom he has two sons, Kristian and Kory. In 1988 he again led the U.S. team to Olympic gold. With 137 kills, 16 block stuffs, 15 block assists, and a kill percentage of 60 percent, Kiraly was voted MVP of the 1988 Olympics volleyball competition.

While leading the U.S.A. National Team to glory throughout much of the 1980s, Kiraly was also involved in beach volleyball, having gone professional in 1983. However, it was not until the 1990s that he truly began to shine in beach competition. In 1991 Kiraly compiled six open wins, a number he almost tripled the following year when he put together a total of 16 open wins, scoring 13 of those wins consecutively. His partner for much of the 1990s was Kent Steffes. The two first played together in 1991 and continued as partners off and on through 1996, compiling a total of 76 titles together. In 1993 Kiraly and Steffes won 18 of 20 tournaments, including three Jose Cuervo tourneys, the Manhattan Open, and the U.S. Championship. The two also won the Miller Lite Grand Prix.

Wins 17 of 22 Tourneys in 1994

Again partnered with Steffes in 1994, Kiraly won 17 of 22 tournaments, including all three Jose Cuervos and the U.S. Championship. He was forced to skip the Manhattan Open because of an injury. For the year, Kiraly's earnings totaled $430,636, and he was voted the AVP's Best Offensive Player of 1994. he piled up 12 open wins in 1995, four of them with Steffes and eight with Scott Ayakatubby, on his way to total winnings of $392,610 for the year. Playing with Steffes, he also won the 1995 FIVB exhibition in Curacao. In winning the 1995 Miller Lite Cup, Kiraly became the first beach volleyball player to reach $2 million in career earnings. For the fifth time, he was voted MVP by the AVP, and he also was given the AVP Sportsman of the Year Award, an honor voted by his peers.


1960Born in Jackson, Michigan, on November 3
1967Begins playing volleyball with his father at the age of 6
1983Earns bachelor's degree in biochemistry from UCLA
1983Becomes professional beach volleyball player
1986Marries Janna Miller in December
1995Appears in episode of TV series Baywatch

Paired once again with longtime partner Steffes, Kiraly won gold in the inaugural beach volleyball competition at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. In all, he compiled 11 open wins with Steffes in 1996. Kept out of competition for much of 1997 by shoulder surgery, Kiraly came back to the game late in the season, winning a total of four tournaments. He once again was named AVP Sportsman of the Year and also received the AVP's Comeback Player Award. Paired with Adam Johnson in 1998, Kiraly won four tournaments and came in second at the 1998 Goodwill Games.

Wins Inaugural Oldsmobile Beach Series

On May 16, 1999, in Huntington Beach, California, Kiraly, paired with Johnson, won the inaugural Oldsmobile Beach Volleyball Series, an event sanctioned by USA Volleyball. He's also won the King of the Beach Invitational four times (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996). For all of 1999, Kiraly won a total of five tournaments, four in AVP-sanctioned events and one at a USA Volleyball-sanctioned event. The following year Kiraly won only one AVP-sanctioned tournament. In 2001 Kiraly suffered leg and shoulder injuries and competed in only two domestic tournaments. For the first time since 1986, he won no tournaments at all in 2001. Bouncing back from his injuries in 2002, Kiraly pushed his career earnings past the $3 million mark at the final AVP tournament of the season in Las Vegas, becoming the first player to do so.

Interviewed by Sports Illustrated in September 2002, Kiraly was asked if it was important to him to be known as the greatest volleyball player of all time. The modest Kiraly responded: "No. There have been a lot of great players. I was lucky to play in a period when we had more tournaments every summer than the guys before me, so I accumulated a lot more victories." Just how many more wins Kiraly will accumulate, no one can say, but it's certain that he's made an impression on volleyball that will linger long after he's left the game forever.


Address: Karch Kiraly, c/o Association of Volleyball Professionals, 330 Washington Blvd., Ste. 600, Marina del Rey, CA 90292-5147.


(With Jon Hastings) Karch Kiraly's Championship Volleyball, Fireside, 1996.

(With Byron Shewman) Beach Volleyball, Human Kinetics, 1999.

Related Biography: Volleyball Player Kent Steffes

Kiraly's partner for more than half of his career wins was Kent Steffes, who paired with Kiraly in 1996 to win gold in the inaugural beach volleyball competition of the Olympic Games. Like Kiraly, Steffes is a graduate of UCLA, having transferred there after spending his freshman year at Stanford. He received his bachelor's degree in economics from UCLA in 1993.

Steffes was born in Pacific Palisades, California, on June 23, 1968. He played volleyball at Palisades High School and in 1986 was named the National High School Player of the Year. While enrolled at Stanford for his freshman year, Steffes was rated the top amateur player in the United States. After one year at Stanford, he transferred to UCLA on a scholarship but opted out of the scholarship after being red-shirted. He joined the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour full time in 1988 and was named the Association's Up and Coming Player of the Year. The following year, he was named the AVP's Rookie of the Year. At the age of 24, he was ranked the number one player in the AVP, the youngest player ever to win this honor. Between volleyball tournaments, Steffes continued to pursue his studies at UCLA, finally graduating in 1993.

Steffes is the only AVP player to win with three different partners in the same year, and in 1991 he won two Jose Cuervo Gold Crown Series events with different partners, another first in the AVP. In 1995 Steffes appeared with Kiraly in an episode of the popular TV series Baywatch.

Awards and Accomplishments

1978Named California High School MVP
1979Named MVP after winning Pacific Rim Tournament
1981-82Leads UCLA to NCAA Championship
1982Named MVP at U.S. Volleyball Association Tournament
1984Leads U.S. National Team to gold medal victory at Olympics
1985Leads U.S. National Team to World Cup victory as team captain
1986Leads U.S. National Team to World Championship
1988Captains U.S. National Team to gold medal victory at Olympics
1991Scores win in six beach volleyball tournaments
1992Wins 16 of 19 beach volleyball tournaments
1993Teams with Kent Steffes to win 18 of 20 beach tourneys
1994Teams with Steffes to win 17 of 22 beach tournaments
1995Compiles 12 tournaments wins with two different partners
1996Teams with Steffes to win inaugural beach volleyball competition at Olympics
1997Named AVP Comeback Player of the Year
2002Passes $3 million mark in career winnings

(With Byron Shewman) The Sand Man: An Autobiography, Renaissance Books, 1999.



"Karch Kiraly." Almanac of Famous People, 6th ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.

"Karch Kiraly." The Complete Marquis Who's Who. New York: Marquis Who's Who, 2001.

"Karch Kiraly." Contemporary Newsmakers 1987, Issue Cumulation. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988.

"Kent Steffes." The Complete Marquis Who's Who. Marquis Who's Who, 2001.


Deitsch, Richard. "Q&A: Karch Kiraly." Sports Illustrated, (September 16, 2002): 32.

Moore, David Leon. "Volleyball Star Kiraly Still Has Some Spike Left." USA Today, (August 23, 2002): 3C.


"Karch Kiraly." Jack's World of Volleyball. (January 12, 2003).

"Karch Kiraly Professional Volleyball Player." CBA. (January 12, 2003).

"Karch Kiraly, Three-Time Olympic Gold Medalist, Professional Volleyball Player." Volleyball World Wide. (January 12, 2003).

"Karch Kiraly: United States." Beach Volleyball Database. (January 12, 2003).

"Kent Steffes." Volleyball World Wide. (January 12, 2003).

"The King Lives." Association of Volleyball Professionals. (January 12, 2003).

"Resolution of Commendation and Appreciation." USA Volleyball. (January 12, 2003).

Sketch by Don Amerman