London • Until just a few weeks ago, Bountiful's Jake Gibb and his beach volleyball partner Sean Rosenthal were the other guys.
The good, but not great.
The close, but no cigar.
The thanks for being here.
All that changed, though, during the build-up to the London Olympics.
The pair started winning, bigger than they ever had before. Took down the reigning world champions from Brazil not once, but twice and eclipsed their hard-luck American rivals, defending Olympic champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, by winning twice in a stretch of four FIVB World Tour tournaments, with silver and bronze medals in the other two. Now, as the London Olympics rev to full throttle, Gibb and Rosenthal might just be the favorites to take home gold medals from a picturesque setting on the historic Horse Guards Parade at the doorstep of the prime minister's residence at 10 Downing Street.
"That's for you guys to decide," Gibb told reporters after beginning his pursuit with a 21-11, 21-10 victory over Freedom Chiya and Grant Goldschmidt of South Africa on Saturday night. "I think the defending gold medalists are the favorites."
It's all but certain that Gibb and Rosenthal will reach the knockout rounds next week, where they at least will have a chance to realize their dreams. The two had foundered since finishing fifth in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and had not won a single international event since then, until their recent surge.
"This has been the best year of our career so far, and we could really top it off with a nice finish here, for sure," Rosenthal said.
Gibb said it's all because they started working with coach Mike Dodd again.
Legendary within the sport, the silver medalist from the inaugural beach volleyball appearance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics coached the pair through the Beijing Olympics, but then stepped away to take jobs with the Italian volleyball federation and the Association of Volleyball Professionals before returning to help them last year.
"We were a ship without a captain," Gibb said. "And he stepped in and changed a lot of things in our offseason, a lot of things I didn't like. I fought, at first. But we stuck with it. It's hard changing old habit, but he did it and I'm real glad he did."
Gibb is a 36-year-old Bountiful High and University of Utah graduate who was a huge basketball fan growing up he still loves the Jazz and did not take up beach volleyball until returning from an LDS Church mission to Costa Rica, where he grew 4 inches to 6-foot-7.
From his home in Orange County, Calif., he returns to Utah with his wife, Jane, and 11-month-old son, Crosby, several times a year, he said, mostly to St. George, where his parents now live.
But to be fair, his and Rosenthal's recent success has happened with a little help from their rivals.
Rogers and Dalhausser have been dealing with all sorts of problems since building a record 40-match winning streak last year. Injuries have made their World Tour season a study in fits and starts Dalhausser had to be hospitalized with blood clots at one point, for one and they have managed no more than a single third-place finish in their last five tournaments.
So they sound a lot like Gibb and Rosenthal, trying to deflect attention.
"Jake and Rosie are playing great volleyball right now," Dalhausser said recently, "so I would have to say you have to put [them] up there as one of the favorites."
Meanwhile, Brazil's Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti have shown unexpected vulnerability, though they did snap their two-game losing streak to Gibb and Rosenthal by beating them in the title match at the World Tour stop in Berlin two weeks ago. The Brazilians have not finished lower than second in the last five World Tour stops, either.
So the Americans who so long have been viewed as the second string of American beach volleyball kind of want to keep it that wayâ¦ at least for now.
"We need to just continue to play our game," Rosenthal said, "not listen to everybody saying we're the favorites and whatnot and keep ourselves in our minds underdogs and show that we have something to prove."