London • Jake Gibb stood slump-shouldered and shell-shocked, staring blankly at the spot where the volleyball had just landed in the sand and ended his gold-medal dreams at the London Olympics.
Just like last time.
For the second straight Olympics, the beach volleyball player from Bountiful was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the men’s tournament, losing 19-21, 21-18, 15-11 to Latvia’s Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins on a gloomy Monday evening at the historic Horse Guards Parade grounds, just steps away from the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street.
It hurt a lot more this time, though, knowing that he and partner Sean Rosenthal were all lined up for a real shot at a medal.
"It’s a hundred times worse," Gibb said.
Unlike four years ago, when they were Olympic rookies just happy to be there, Gibb and Rosenthal came into the tournament as hot as any team in the world. They had beaten the reigning world champions from Brazil twice in the last few weeks, and seen defending Olympic champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser crash out in the round of 16, removing at least one foreboding obstacle.
"We were fighting out there," Gibb said, "and I thought we were going to pull it out."
Alas, the Americans couldn’t get anything to go right in the third set, after splitting the first two under a dark-gray sky and intermittent rain.
Plavins and Smedins "just kept making play after play," Gibb said, driving balls past his block and lofting them deftly into open spaces. It seemed like whenever Gibb and Rosenthal went left, the ball went right.
If they got a hand on it, it caromed out of bounds.
"We were down a few points, but we always thought we were going to come back and win," Rosenthal said. "We’ve been doing it all year, been playing really well. It’s a tough loss."
In a crucial sequence at the end, fourth-seeded Gibb and Rosenthal botched a service reception like infielders colliding in a chase for a fly ball, then got tangled up near the net to fall behind 14-10. Rosenthal slammed down a kill to cut the lead, but it’s all but impossible to fight off three match points with rally scoring in beach volleyball.
Predictably, they couldn’t manage it, against a team seeded just 14th in the tournament.
"They ran a good defense on me," said Gibb, who attended Bountiful High School and the University of Utah but now lives in California. "I couldn’t see their defense, so I think that’s how they scored their points. I couldn’t see where he was lining up on defense to chip around him. I’ve always had trouble with that team. They’re very quick, and it’s hard to spot them, as opposed to the Russians that we played — big guy, you can see him a little bit better."
The loss leaves no Americans in the men’s tournament, with Brazil’s Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego set to face the Latvians the semifinals.
They’re the reigning world champions whom Gibb and Rosenthal had conquered so encouragingly last month, contributing to their good feelings about their return trip to the Olympics.
"I believed we were going to go win a medal," Gibb said, still shocked and shaking his head. "I just had the feeling, and to not get it is really disappointing. Really disappointing."
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