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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Features

Intensity keeps Kiraly on top

Ann Herold Los Angeles Times

Karch Kiraly’s national team colleagues in the 1980s called him Mr. Computer, his focus so linear that at times he seemed robotic. Olympic gold medalist Bob Ctvrtlik “told me that he played with Karch eight years, and he still feels like he doesn’t know him well,” says Kiraly’s current trainer, Mike Rangel. Indeed, in those halcyon years on the beach tour, when Kiraly and then-partner Kent Steffes were unbeatable, their relationship was so businesslike they might as well have been wearing suits and swinging briefcases.

Where his father, Laszlo Kiraly, who had played on the Hungarian national team, was a ferocious, volatile and sarcastic competitor, Karch was intense and controlled.

He was also, by all accounts, fox smart. He and his dad began entering beach tournaments when Karch was 11, and the young player quickly figured out “how he could control the emotions of his opponents,” Rangel says. The adult players were losing it over losing to a child, “getting angry, and he was capitalizing on it,” Rangel says.

In interviews, Kiraly is deliberate. In goes the question and out comes the carefully analyzed answer. He has long been a no-nonsense manager. When one of his wife Janna’s horses became fearful of jumping, he impatiently suggested they get rid of it. He home-schooled his two sons, Kristian and Kory, for five years. He taught math, science and composition, and Janna taught the rest.

So as a more emotional Kiraly emerged, one who was openly elated at his partner’s play, pronouncing the victories “sweeter because they come less often,” a shift could be felt in the axis of planet Kiraly.

Even as Kiraly and partner Mike Lambert lost in the finals of the Association of Volleyball Professionals Tournament in Chicago, and the veteran was being asked in the post-game interview about Lambert’s dropping him for a new partner in time to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Kiraly was all smiles. It would be good for Lambert. It would be good for the sport. It was like the aging Agassi winning the match of his life against James Blake at the U.S. Open and declaring, “I wasn’t the winner. Tennis was the winner.”

But here’s what Kiraly didn’t say: He’s looking at new partners. Oh, he plans to keep winning.

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