For some reason, it had escaped my attention until recently that Karch Kiraly has actually written an autobiography, ‘The Sand Man: An Autobiography’. Finding out if the greatest volleyball of the twentieth century had anything to interesting to say is one of the best reasons I have come across to buy a volleyball book, although checking through the number of atrocious (and foreign language) volleyball books in my library, I obviously don’t need much of a reason. Through the magic of amazon, and the charging of a large number of euros to my credit card, it soon arrived at my door. For once, a volleyball book did not disappoint. If nothing else it is an interesting companion book to Doug Beal’s ‘Spike’. ‘Spike’ tells the story of the building of the 1984 Olympic gold medal winning team, from the point of view of the coach. A big chunk of ‘Sand Man’, tells the same story from the perspective of a player in the team. And it is certainly interesting how different that perspective is. Karch (along with others from that team who I have heard on the subject) gives, with a great deal of difficulty, the most grudging of respect for the role Beal played in development of the team. If Karch is to be believed at face value, all Beal did was stop them from doing what they wanted (ie play beach volleyball on the weekends) and made them play in a team with people from outside California (ie who couldn’t actually play). It is difficult to discern exactly which he considers to be the greater sin. Of course, I don’t believe for a moment that ‘Spike’ is the definitive history but it is interesting to read the strength of Karch’s feelings on the matter.
Given the title of the book it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that despite making his name indoors, he really considers himself a beach player who played a bit of indoors. He makes it pretty clear that his commitment to indoor volleyball was firstly for the Olympics and secondly (when he went to Italy) for the money. Otherwise he would much rather have been hanging out with his mates at the beach, playing all day and having a few beers afterwards. I found that surprising on a couple of levels. For one, I didn’t expect he would be so (or at all) dismissive of indoor volleyball and and for two, there are definitely more legends of the ‘prickly, insanely competitive, difficult to get along with, net pulling down (it is somewhere on youtube, but I can’t find it), going to the beach with his briefcase’ Karch, than the ‘chillin’ at the beach, chugging a few coldies’ Karch. Of course that is not to say that both can’t/don’t coexist.
All in all, ‘Sand Man’ is one of the two best volleyball books I have read. ‘Spike’ is the other one. Now we need someone to write the story from an independent point of view.