For Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal to continue their Olympic quest, they had to literally defeat a giant.
And like most encounters with a giant, it was frightening.
"It got scary there for a second," Gibb said after the U.S. beach volleyball duo defeated the Russians 21-14, 22-20. "It got real scary. Sean struggled a bit, but he came up big in the end. I'm so stoked right now."
The Bountiful native carried the team in Saturday's match, which eliminates the Russian team — Serguei Prokoplev and Konstantin Semenov.
Semenov is nearly 7 feet tall and Gibb admitted it was intimidating to face that kind of size every time he approached the net.
"You just kept going, 'Where is he? Oh, there he is!'" laughed Gibb. "He's a monster."
Gibb said he had to play smart and aggressive to beat the tenacious Russian duo.
"We had a good game plan just coming out and being aggressive with our setting and I guess it paid off in the first set," said Gibb. "We knew (Semenov) was big at the net, and I really showed everybody that he was that big."
The U.S. pair led the match in kills 29-22. Gibb had 16 of those points. They edged the Russians in blocks 4-3 and in digs 25-20.
The U.S. team controlled the first set fairly handily. But they fell behind in the second set, at one point 9 to 3. They used tough serving and aggressive play at the net to fight their way back into the set, which was a thriller that required an extra point to decide it.
After the match, Gibb, who just a year and a half ago didn't think he'd be competing in the Olympics due to testicular cancer, could barely contain his excitement. Gibb's cancer was caught early enough that he didn't require chemotherapy, and he was able to continue competing for a chance to represent the U.S. In London. Gibb and Rosenthal didn't qualify until their last tournament in mid-July, which also happened to be their first Grand Slam title.
Both men admitted neither of them has played well at the same time thus far in the tournament.
"Watch out when we both play well," said Gibb.Comment on this story
Defending Olympic champions Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers were elminated from the tournament by a team from Italy (Paolo Nicolai and Danielle Lupo) in two sets.
It is now up to Gibb and Rosenthal to defend the Olympic gold for the United States.
Gibb said they have the utmost respect for their next opponent, Latvia.
"I can't even think about it yet," he said. The men will watch film of the team they will face in Monday's quarterfinals and break it down with their coach, Mike Dodd.
"We'll be ready," said Gibb.
Added his partner, "We'll just do what we do, and we'll do it well."