Kiraly does nothing half-heartedly. He works hard, studies hard and parties hard. He will dance for hours on end, until his shirt is discarded and his jeans are soaked. He hit the books diligently in school, graduating from Santa Barbara High with a 3.96 GPA, third in a class of 800. At UCLA he had a 3.55 as a biochemistry major.
He was also said to be the best drinker around.
"I went overboard a little bit," Kiraly says. "It was a phase of wildness you have to get out of your system. Fortunately, I did, or maybe I wouldn't be alive."
Today Kiraly is so in control that friends call him the Computer. He has alphabetized his fan mail and is a compulsive listmaker, with an agenda for the next three months, not just tomorrow. "We once had a day in San Francisco," says Miller, "and Karch spent 45 minutes that morning making a route for the whole day of everywhere we were going to go, with time limits at each stop."
Miller has had a hard time teaching Kiraly to cook. "Seasoning to taste" smacks of anarchy to his orderly mind. "If I'm making spaghetti sauce and I ask Karch to cook the noodles, he wants to count each noodle," Miller says. "He'd be a great accountant. He'd be great at anything working with numbers." Which is fine, most of the time. He is, after all, the Computer. But his hardware occasionally needs a rest. "Sometimes," says Dave Saunders, a teammate, "Steve [Timmons, Kiraly's roommate] and I have to tell him to unplug the computer and be a human for a while."
Surprisingly, Kiraly is unsure what the future holds. His plans to enter medical school have been scrapped temporarily. "I'm interested in real estate investment and finance," says Kiraly, who bought a house in San Diego in April. Even volleyball, he says, is a year-to-year thing, although it's hard to believe he might not be around for the '88 Seoul Games.
"He is the one player they can't afford to lose," says Chris Marlowe, captain of the '84 Olympic team. "Without him, they would drop three or four places in the world—behind the Soviets, the Cubans and Brazil, if not lower."
Toni Kiraly laughs when asked about her son's precision. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," she says, nodding toward her husband, Laszlo. He agrees. "That's my compulsivity coming through," he says. Laszlo Kiraly was an engineering student in Budapest when he took part in the ill-fated Hungarian revolt in 1956. He left the country with little more than a duffel bag. Eventually he made his way to the U.S. and earned two engineering degrees and an M.D. at the University of Michigan. Now he specializes in rehabilitation medicine in Santa Barbara.
As a teenager, Kiraly played volleyball for the Hungarian junior national team. He still plays during lunch break and on weekends. His voice, a trumpet of competitiveness, can easily be heard from one end of the beach to the other as he admonishes teammates and himself.
When he was interning in Santa Barbara in 1967, Las introduced Karch, then six, to volleyball. Five years later Karch and his father became beach partners. Sanguinary opponents hit everything Karch's way. As if that weren't difficult enough, his father was also sandblasting him.