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A Showdown With Soviets Is Special Event for Kiraly

July 19, 1986|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The postmatch press conference was over, but one of the journalists took aside Karch Kiraly, the U.S. volleyball captain, and asked for a moment of his time.

"Where are you from?" Kiraly asked.

"I am from Budapest," the reporter said.

"My father's from Hungary," Kiraly said.

"I know," the reporter said. "I want to ask you why he left."

Even though he was in the capital of the Soviet Union, inside a building named for Vladimir I. Lenin, Kiraly did not hesitate.

"He left because he didn't want to live under Soviet rule," said Kiraly, whose father fled Hungary during the revolution against the Soviets in 1956 and now lives with his family in Santa Barbara, where he is a doctor.

Other journalists entered the conversation.

"Do you feel strange, being here?" one of them asked.

"No, absolutely not," Kiraly said. "I don't think about it. This is sports, and the Soviets have a great team."

There were other questions, most of them about that evening's 3-0 victory over Czechoslovakia that earned the United States a berth in Friday night's semifinal against France.

When the crowd disassembled, the Hungarian journalist approached Kiraly again and asked for his autograph.

That Hungarian now has the signature of the world's best volleyball player.

At least, it's hard to believe there could be anyone better when you hear U.S. Coach Marv Dunphy's description of the three-time All-American from UCLA.

Dunphy says to imagine a center fielder who consistently hits over .300, occasionally leads the league in home runs, is second on your team in stolen bases and never fails to win a Gold Glove. Dunphy says to imagine Willie Mays or Joe DiMaggio.

"If he were a football player, he'd have been a first-round draft choice as a cornerback," Dunphy said of Kiraly, who finished second in the Superstars competition last year to Mark Gastineau.

But Kiraly chose volleyball, which is one reason the American men have been the best in the world for the last three years, although they have to keep proving it.

Tonight, at the Lenin Sports Palace, in the final of the Goodwill Games, the challenge will come from the Soviet Union.

Both teams are undefeated here, but the Soviets have struggled in their last two matches, needing five games in each of their victories over the French Wednesday night and the Japanese in the semifinals Friday night. The score of that match was 11-15, 15-7, 12-15, 15-7, 15-9.

Earlier Friday night, the United States beat the French, 14-16, 15-2, 15-13, 15-3. The Americans had not even lost a game before then.

Six of the 11 players for the United States were members of the team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, which was boycotted by the Soviets. But the Americans proved it was no fluke last winter when they won the World Cup, beating the Soviets along the way in a match that lasted 3 hours 45 minutes. The United States won the last game, 15-12.

But as cherished as those two championships are, a victory tonight may be more important to the future of volleyball in the United States.

Although the U.S. victory in the Olympics was not entirely overlooked, it did not stand out in a tidal wave of gold medals for Americans. Without the Soviets in Los Angeles, it was expected. Even with the Soviets, the World Cup received little attention in the United States.

But the Goodwill Games, even though they are second in importance this year to next month's world championships in Paris, have provided the U.S. men with a rare opportunity to become prime-time players.

WTBS officials, who are producing the Goodwill Games for television in the United States, admit that not as many people as they would like are watching. But according to their figures, many of the people who are watching are watching volleyball. They said the ratings were relatively good last week for the U.S. women, who finished third, and are better this week for the men.

"That's why it's so important for us to play well here," Kiraly said Friday night. "This is one of the few chances we have to let the American public see what men's volleyball is all about.

"We won the World Cup, but very few people heard about the result. Many more people will know about the result of this tournament, maybe even more than will know about how we do in the world championships later this year."

Dunphy said the International Volleyball Federation is considering rule changes that would make the game more accessible for television audiences, including one that would enable teams to score points when they receive. Now, only the serving team can score, which tends to drag out some games.

One thing people should realize, even if they watch only one game, is how much Kiraly does for the U.S. team. No one is better at diving to dig out balls before they hit the floor. He also is an excellent passer and one of the team's best spikers. The combination of power and finesse makes him unique.

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