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Teamwork brings third gold to Kiraly

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Indoors or out, Karch Kiraly continues to rule the sport of volleyball.

Kiraly and partner Kent Steffes rolled to a 12-5, 12-8 victory over U.S. teammates Mike Dodd and Mike Whitmarsh in Sunday's gold-medal game of the beach volleyball tournament.

Kiraly, 35, of San Clemente, Calif., became the first volleyball player to win three gold medals. He led the U.S. indoor team to victories in 1984 and '88 before leaving for the beach, where he has become a five-time MVP on the U.S. pro circuit.

"If I were to list today what I am most proud of, it's probably that we were able to, as a team, win here on the beach, and with other teammates I was able to win the gold medal indoors," he said.

This was the first time beach volleyball had full-fledged status in the Olympics, and the scene was one of the strangest of these Games. International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch did the wave. The sellout crowd of 9,300 danced the Macarena. The players wore flip-flops on the medal stand.

"This was an awesome feeling," Kiraly said. "We put together an incredible tournament."

Canada's John Child and Mark Heese won the bronze medal with a 12-5, 12-8 victory over Joao Brenha and Miguel Maia of Portugal.

But Kiraly and Steffes were the clear aggressors Sunday, scoring the first six points on the way to winning the opening set. Steffes opened the second set with a booming ace, and the best Dodd and Whitmarsh could do was tie the score three times.

"They've been the dominant team in our sport for four or five years now," Whitmarsh said. "If I have to lose, I'd like to lose to the best, and Karch Kiraly has done more for volleyball than anybody I know."

Kiraly learned the game from his father, starting when he was 6. Later, the two played in amateur tournaments up and down the California coast. Laszlo Kiraly became an instant celebrity at the Seoul Olympics with his tireless flag-waving. He had seen both of his son's indoor gold-medal matches, but was so incensed at the Olympic selection process he swore he would never set foot in the Clayton County venue.

That changed when Kiraly called his father Saturday afternoon, holding an airline reservation and a stadium ticket.

"I've got a seat reserved for you on a flight to Atlanta in about four hours," Kiraly told his father. "Will you come?"

"That was the first time he ever had done that," Las Kiraly said. "Once he did, I knew I should be here, no matter what I said before."

He took the old Seoul flag out of mothballs and got on a red-eye to Atlanta to watch his son make history.