Karch Kiraly: Born to be the greatest

Presenting the member of the FIVB Technical & Coaching Commission and the only indoor and beach Olympic champion

If there were only one true legend in the worlds of the volleyball and beach volleyball, that legend would bear the name Karch Kiraly. Currently a member of the FIVB Technical & Coaching Commission and head coach of the US women’s national volleyball team, the 61-year-old American has already won as many as four Olympic gold medals – two as an indoor volleyball player, one as a beach volleyball player and one as an indoor coach – among innumerable trophies, medals, awards and achievements in his amazing career.

Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes celebrate at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games

Born as Charles Frederick Kiraly in 1960 in the United States into the family of former Hungarian junior national team player Laszlo Kiraly, he started playing volleyball at the early age of six, encouraged by his father. Charles was only 11, when he teamed up with his dad for his first beach volleyball tournament.

He demonstrated his outstanding volleyball talent as an indoor high school player and earned his spot on the US junior national team. While earning his college degree in Los Angeles, Karch, as he became better known by nickname, played as a setter and an outside hitter for the UCLA Bruins, claiming three NCAA Championship titles and a silver and honoured twice as the Most Outstanding Player, in 1981 and 1982.

In 1981, Kiraly joined the senior national team as an outside hitter. For the nine years, during which he represented the USA, he won the Olympic titles at both Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988. He was named MVP at the Games in Korea. In addition, Kiraly and his teammates won the gold medals at the 1986 FIVB Volleyball World Championship, the 1985 FIVB Volleyball World Cup, the 1987 Pan American Games and the 1983 and 1985 NORCECA Championships, as well as a Goodwill Games 1986 silver. Kiraly was named World Cup MVP at both the 1985 and 1989 editions of the tournament.

After wrapping up his national team career, the 1.88m-tall athlete went on to play professionally in Italy for two seasons. With his club team, Il Messaggero Ravenna, Kiraly won the title and MVP award at the 1991 FIVB Volleyball Club World Championship. They also won trophies in the CEV European Champions Cup, the Italian national championship and the Italian national cup.

In the meantime, Karch Kiraly maintained an active professional career in beach volleyball, which spanned four different decades, from 1978 through 2007. He won the most tournaments, 144, in the history of the USA’s domestic circuits, adding 54 silver and 46 bronze medals to his tally and claiming numerous MVP and other individual awards.

He played internationally from 1987 through 2003, triumphing as the first-ever Olympic champion in men’s beach volleyball in partnership with Kent Steffes at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996. He made the podium at the 1998 Goodwill Games in New York, earning silver alongside Adam Johnson. Kiraly also won world-level gold medals at the 1988 Brazil Open and the 1989 Japan Open, in addition to two more silvers and a bronze at FIVB tournaments.

Kiraly was twice named the World’s Best Player of the Year by FIVB in 1986 and 1988. In 2001, he was honoured as the FIVB Best Male Volleyball Player of the 20th Century. That year, he was inducted to the International Volleyball Hall of Fame. Later, in 2008, Kiraly was also inducted to the US Olympic Hall of Fame.

In Karch Kiraly’s first coaching experience, he helped his sons’ high school team grow from a never-winning to a title-winning squad. His high-level coaching career began in 2009 when Hugh McCutcheon, the head coach of USA’s women’s national team, invited him as an assistant. In that role, he helped lead the Americans to the London 2012 Olympic silver, the 2010, 2011 and 2012 FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix titles, the 2011 World Cup silver, the 2011 NORCECA Championship gold, the 2011 Pan American Games bronze, as well as one gold and two bronze medals in the Pan American Cup.

Kiraly took over the head coaching position in 2013 and continued leading the US team on a glorious journey of success. In 2014, they celebrated their first ever World Championship title. In 2015, they earned another World Grand Prix trophy. In 2016, they made the Olympic podium again, earning the Rio de Janeiro bronze. Between 2018 and 2021, they were the unchangeable winners of the first three editions of the FIVB Volleyball Nations League. In between, Kiraly steered USA to two more World Cup medals, two FIVB Volleyball World Grand Champions Cup podiums, a World Grand Prix silver and several trophies and medals at NORCECA and Pan American continental tournaments.

In what has been the highlight of his coaching career so far, in August 2021, the Kiraly-led American team achieved historic success. At the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, they won their first ever Olympic title. He became the first male volleyball player to win Olympic gold as both a player and coach. Later, Kiraly was named Olympic Coach of the Year by the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.