Karch and Sinjin would be the best-known players in U.S.
volleyball history even if they were named Pat and Mike. And on
the man-made splendor of Atlanta Beach yesterday, Karch Kiraly
and Sinjin Smith gave the volleyball world one more reason to
never forget them.
Their Olympic quarterfinal showdown wasn't a match, as Kiraly's
partner Kent Steffes observed, it was a made-for-TV movie.
"Never," Smith would say later, "have I been in a match with
that much at stake." Emotion and trash talk spilled over the
net, a wicked brew leavened with a dose of volleyball politics
that makes the Democrat-Republican thing look like class
elections. The politics--an inexhaustible source of debate
within the sport--are, in brief, these: The 39-year-old Smith
and his partner, Carl Henkel, took advantage of an Olympic
exemption as the top American team on the International
Volleyball Federation (FIVB) tour, while all the American teams
that play on the domestic Association of Volleyball
Professionals (AVP) tour had to slog through a qualifying
When another American player, Mike Dodd, was asked after the
match if he had ever seen such a widely anticipated sporting
event live up to its potential, he replied, "Maybe some of the
Ali-Frazier fights." Kiraly and Steffes won 17-15, coming back
from a 12-8 deficit and later fending off four match points
before converting a fifth match point of their own.
From the beginning of the beach volleyball competition on
Tuesday, Atlanta Beach had been Olympic Party Central. But
yesterday the circus left town, replaced by Olympian tension for
Henkel used all of his 6'7" to dominate at the net, scoring five
points on stuff blocks. And Smith blended some hard spikes with
his customary assortment of angles and junk. Kiraly and Steffes
rallied at the end, after the magical spell was broken by the
public-address announcer, who asked fans during a break in the
action which team they were rooting for. Kiraly and Steffes drew
the louder roar, but Kiraly heard one particularly vocal Sinjin
rooter, Malu Acosta, wife of FIVB president Ruben Acosta. "I
kept hearing her going, 'Come on, Sinjin, come on, Carl,'"
Kiraly said in a mocking falsetto. When the match ended with a
Steffes kill, Kiraly directed a few choice words in her
direction in his normally insistent baritone.
A month ago Kiraly had said Smith and Henkel weren't among the
top eight U.S. teams, but he quickly recanted yesterday. "My
opinion's changed," said Kiraly, 35. "I had assumed the worst
[about that pair], but they gave us all we could handle and more."
Smith and Henkel won't get a rematch because they lost 15-13 to
Portugal's Joao Brenha and Miguel Maia later yesterday and were
eliminated, as were the remaining U.S. women's teams.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Kiraly raised his game to a higher level against Henkel (at the net) and Smith. [Karch Kiraly, Carl Henkel and Sinjin Smith in game]