The disappointment dripped from every syllable Jake Gibb spoke.
"I'm really disappointed," said the Bountiful native after he and his partner, Sean Rosenthal, were defeated by the Latvian duo of Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins, 19-21, 21-18, 15-11, Monday night in the quarterfinals of the men's beach volleyball tournament at the London Olympics. "Coming into these games, I had this feeling we were going to medal. Not overconfident, just confident. I felt like we'd put the work in; we were playing well."
Gibb and Rosenthal were clicking on the court after dealing with extremely difficult realities off the court. Gibb was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010, and at first thought his treatment would end his volleyball career. Instead, doctors determined that he didn't need chemotherapy and he and Rosenthal pursued their Olympic goals in earnest.
But it was after luring Mike Dodd on board as their coach last year that things really began to click for the U.S. duo. They only seemed to get better as the games approached. They won their first Grand Slam title on their way to qualifying for the Olympics in July, and they'd defeated reigning world champions Brazil twice this year.
But on Monday evening, it was a pair of upstarts who stunned the American team.
"I think they played well," said Gibb. "Good job by them."
Gibb said that finishing fifth — the same position they earned in 2008 at Beijing — was infinitely more painful this time around.
"It's the same place, but I left with a different feeling," he said. "It's hard, man. I don't have a good answer for what happened. I felt like we were going to battle back. I felt like we had it in us. It's what we've done this whole year, even when it was 7-3 in the third (set). I felt like we were going to come back; that's just what we've done. And we didn't. I don't know. This is hard to accept."
Gibb said he had trouble finding open spots on the court, while their opponents seemed to put the ball just out of their reach.
"I couldn't see the court out there," he said. "Sean was setting well, but I couldn't see the defense. Usually I can see the defense a little better than I did today."
The Latvian team was seeded No. 17, while Gibb and Rosenthal were seeded No. 4.
Rosenthal said the younger team played tenaciously against the Americans.
"They're always a tough team to face," said Rosenthal. "They're not the biggest guys out there, but they're never out of it. … They just don't go away. They're fighters; they play well."
Gibb said he'd had significant support from fans in Utah, his home state, as well as California, where he now lives with his wife and young son.
"The support I got was amazing," he said. "I hope they're with me through the loss. It's a tough thing. Having so many people support us; they live and die every point with us. This is tough."
He called it the "most disappointing loss of my career."Comment on this story
Plavins and Smedins earned 37 kills to Gibb and Rosenthal's 35 kills. They also edged the U.S. team in digs 22-20 and in aces 3-1. Plavins and Smedins will play Brazil's No. 1-seeded Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti in today's semifinals.
"They took advantage of their breaks. The ball bounced their way off the block," Rosenthal said of the Latvian twosome. "They're a really good defensive team. They dig a lot of balls and keep a lot of rallies alive. They made plays when they had to."
As difficult as it is, Rosenthal said the U.S. pair will find a way to see the best in their second Olympic experience.
"Jake and I will find a way to take positives out of it," he said. "We always have."