For Kiraly, crow was nearly his next meal Bad-mouthing of Smith proves mistake as he, Henkel almost pull it out

Atlanta Olympics

July 27, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Before the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball trials were held in Baltimore last month, Karch Kiraly said that his former partner and longtime rival, Sinjin Smith, was incapable of winning a medal with Carl Henkel at the 1996 Olympics.

The prediction might ultimately prove correct, but it looked rash yesterday when Smith and Henkel pushed Kiraly and his current partner, Kent Steffes, to the limit in a tense and sometimes testy quarterfinal match at Atlanta Beach.

After trailing for most of the 55-minute match and after blowing four match points, Kiraly and Steffes survived, 17-15, to advance into the winners' bracket of the semifinals. Smith and Henkel still have a chance to medal.

"We're competitive with anybody in the world," said Smith. "After that match and the tournament, I hope Henkel and Smith will be remembered."

Certainly, Kiraly will remember. And he probably won't bad-mouth Smith anymore. Then again, it's difficult to talk with a sandy foot in your mouth.

Said Kiraly: "My opinion has changed. I was mistaken. I'm not so sure they wouldn't have been in [the Olympics] if they had gone through the trials."

It was a pretty significant admission for Kiraly, considering that he didn't think Smith and Henkel should have been in the Olympics at all after not having to go through the trials.

As the No. 1-ranked team on the International Beach Volleyball tour, Smith and Henkel were given automatic Olympic berths. Kiraly and Steffes qualified in Baltimore, needing to beat an injured Randy Stoklos and A. J. Johnson in the losers' bracket to advance.

The verbal jousting between Kiraly and Smith the past few months continued into yesterday's match. After Smith and Henkel stormed to an early lead that eventually would grow to 12-8, they could be seen trash-talking with Kiraly.

But it ended as Kiraly and Steffes made a remarkable comeback, pulling even at 12-12. Trailing 16-15, Smith and Henkel held off their opponents until a dig by Steffes and a perfect set by Kiraly led to the game-winning point.

"We did a lot of yelling under the net," said Kiraly, who was barely congratulated by Smith after the match. "It was the kind of match that puts people in the seats."

So was the match between the world's No. 1-ranked women's team -- Holly McPeak and Nancy Reno -- and the team that won the trials in Baltimore -- Linda Hanley and Barbara Fontana-Harris.

Hanley and Fontana-Harris won, 15-10, to advance to tomorrow's gold-medal game against Brazil's first-name-only team of Monica and Adriana.

The elimination of the favorites was not seen as a huge upset, considering the on-again, off-again relationship of McPeak and Reno. After qualifying for the Olympics earlier this year, McPeak and Reno split up until recently.

"It had zero effect," said McPeak. "We win as a team, we lose as a team."

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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