American volleyball star Jordan Larson comes out of retirement to play in fourth Olympics

Four-time Olympian Jordan Larson, left, listens to U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly, right, and coaches during the USA Volleyball Spring Training Camp at Open Gym Premier in Anaheim, Calif., on March 12, 2024.
Four-time Olympian Jordan Larson, left, listens to U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly, right, and coaches during the USA Volleyball Spring Training Camp at Open Gym Premier in Anaheim, Calif., on March 12, 2024. AP Photo

Jordan Larson finds a much-needed safe haven the moment she walks into the office of longtime U.S. volleyball coach Karch Kiraly.

She can take a deep breath and know she will have his support through any life challenge.

Larson never expected to be wearing a volleyball uniform at age 37. She retired after leading the Americans to a long-awaited gold medal at the Tokyo Games. Yet after a divorce and some serious soul-searching, Larson finds herself back with the national team and headed to a fourth Olympics.

Kiraly is a key reason. Larson realizes she wouldn’t be on this path without him after both started with the women’s team in 2009.

“Karch and I have been on this journey now together. ... He’s known my whole professional career and all the stuff that’s come between,” she said. “I think there’s obviously more that goes into coaching — friend, mentor, he’s just the epitome of everything.”

Kiraly has lifted her up through two divorces and following the death of her mother, Kae, to breast cancer 15 years ago.

Larson credits Kiraly for having “an impact without judgment.”

“Life gets hard and he’s just been there and consistent for me,” she said.

Kiraly, a decorated beach and indoor Olympian himself, helped guide Larson and the Americans to a silver medal at the 2012 London Games. They captured bronze in Rio de Janeiro four years later with him as head coach, and then won that elusive first gold in Tokyo.

Larson then walked away, ready to move on from a sensational volleyball career as an Olympic champion.

Married again and eager to start a family, her sights were set on beginning her new life. No more traveling the world for an international season before returning home to play domestically. Coaching had become a nice option, and Larson embraced the idea of mentoring the next generation of American players.

Until that plan all fell apart.

“I had gotten married right after the Tokyo Olympic Games and I was living in my dream, ready to step away, ready to start a family, and life happens,” she said. “I’m away a lot so I think it just gets hard at times. I learned some things and needed to step away and figure out what I really wanted to do.”

The volleyball court slowly coaxed her back. Kiraly welcomed her with open arms, as always.

Larson refers to it as “finding blessings” during the toughest times.

“Being around the girls really solidified that this is where I’m supposed to be and every day since then it’s just been even more validated in that,” she said. “Thanks to Karch for even having the door open.”

Kiraly is thrilled to have one of the world’s best outside hitters wearing a United States uniform once more.

“Jordan retired from our USA team after the Tokyo ’21 Olympics so she was not with us for the ’22 season,” said Kiraly, himself a three-time Olympic champion with one of those gold medals coming in beach volleyball. “So she thought her life was taking her in one direction that might lead to marriage, family and coaching.

“But her life took a turn and she got a little back into volleyball, found that she was loving it, her body was feeling much better than she thought it would and that she was missing and loving the game far more than she thought she might.”

Larson spent part of 2022 at Texas helping with the volleyball program in a volunteer capacity before returning last year to her alma mater, Nebraska, as an assistant coach.

Coaching has provided a new perspective for Larson, who cherishes having traveled the world playing her sport but realizes how much Kiraly and the U.S. count on the continuity of college volleyball to build a foundation.

“You enter back in and you have a different outlook and now I see the national team and where our athletes get to go next after college and how it took us 60 years to win a gold medal. It shouldn’t take that long,” she said. “I now see, how can we make all of our athletes at all of the universities thrive?”

Kiraly understands the value of Larson learning the coaching side and has been flexible with her schedule. She was one of the two starting outside hitters for the Americans during qualifying in Poland last September.

Playing in her fourth Olympics, Larson trails Danielle Scott’s record of five appearances — from 1996 to 2012. And Kerri Walsh Jennings played for one U.S. Olympic indoor team and then reached four Olympics on the beach side, winning a total of three gold medals.

“To my mind, Jordan is the best who’s ever played for the USA women’s team, if I were to have to single that out to one person, and that’s really hard to do because there have been so many accomplished people,” Kiraly said. “But she’s done it at such a high level for so long. Really impressive.”

Whatever happens next, Larson will walk away the next time knowing the legacy she leaves and what this sport has given her.

“I look at these girls in college that I’m now coaching and I’m like, ‘I was once that’ and I just dreamed of being an Olympian one time,” she said. “I thought I was going to be done in Tokyo and really felt I was in a good place, and I still feel like I’m in a really good place. If something happens and I have to step away, I know what I’ve done in this sport and I can walk away with my head held high knowing that I’ve given everything, so I’m grateful for that.” (AP)

Trending

No stories found.

Just in

No stories found.

Branded Content

No stories found.
SunStar Publishing Inc.
www.sunstar.com.ph