Bountiful native Jake Gibb and his partner Sean Rosenthal spent 18 months traveling the globe hoping to win enough beach volleyball points to qualify for the two-pair U.S. Olympic team.
It was nerve-racking and hectic, but the long qualification process was about doing something they know playing volleyball.
But ever since last weekend when he learned while on a plane ride home from Russia that he and Rosenthal had, indeed, become Olympians, life has changed gears to the unknown for Gibb, who now lives in Orange County, Calif., and who has made a dramatic four-year rise in the world of pro beach volleyball.
"I have no idea what to expect," Gibb said by telephone this week. "We've been in the process of qualifying so long that all of a sudden I'm in the Olympics, and I'm trying to figure it out."
The Bountiful High and University of Utah graduate has been asking around to find out what dates the beach volleyball competition will be held in Beijing (Aug. 9-24). He also needed to learn about the opening ceremonies (Aug. 8) and hotel rooms and event tickets for his family his wife (Jane), his parents (Lawrence and Saundra, who just moved from Bountiful to Huntington Beach, Calif.), two brothers (Gary and John), two sisters (Larali and Christine) and a sister-in-law (Allison) are all going to China.
He'll have to take an Olympic committee orientation class regarding proper Chinese behavior in San Francisco in a few weeks, and Gibb and Rosenthal will play in three AVP pro beach volleyball tournaments in Chicago, New York and Long Beach before going to Beijing a week before the Olympics start.
Gibb said it's best to keep playing and keep sharp rather than take time to relax or just focus on training.
Gibb and Rosenthal are coming off a 17th-place finish in Moscow last week, tying their lowest place on the world tour in the last year and a half. But Gibb attributes some of that to not really having to do well to qualify for the Olympics. They had a 980-point lead over the third-place team, and Matt Fuerbringer and Casey Jennings would have had to win the last two Olympic qualifying events to overtake Gibb and Rosenthal.
"I think we got into a stage where we were kind of playing not to lose our Olympic spot rather than going out and getting a win," said Gibb. "That's over now, so we can focus on this one event.
"We're going to take a medal," he said. "That's what I want to put out in the universe.
"I don't know what our chances are. I think we're going in something like an 8-9-10 seed, but we won an event earlier this year (the Prague Open in May), so we have it in us. But we've also taken 17th. Hopefully we don't have that in us."
After hearing friends ask for a couple of years if he'll play in the Olympics, "I can finally say yes. It's emotionally draining, that's for sure," Gibb said.
"There's been some sleepless nights, yeah. It's a different kind of emotional ride than any sort of volleyball that I've experienced."
It was a bit of a gamble to spend 18 months traveling the world trying to gain enough points to qualify because it might have been more financially rewarding to stay on the AVP tour, where the duo was usually in the top four or five and earning good money and making sponsors happy seeing them on national TV quite often. The sponsors like having Olympians, of course, but that wasn't certain until last weekend.
"I'm happy and relieved, all in one," said the new Olympian. "It's been a crazy little road." But it's worth it now. "Oh, worth every ache and pain and every ball hit out, yeah, it's well worth it, for sure."
His former partner, Stein Metzger, an established star who chose Gibb for his team in 2005 and saw Gibb become the AVP's MVP as the duo won the AVP 2005 tour, had attempted to qualify for the Olympics, but his new partner was injured, and that dream died.
Metzger texted congratulations and good luck to Gibb on Monday and also sent him some advice. Despite the breakup two years ago, they remain friends, and Gibb says he'd rather have had the chance to beat Metzger out for the Olympic spot than to have his team unable to compete.
When Metzger dumped him, Gibb said he had "the pick of the litter" for a new partner and chose rising star Rosenthal, and the two have had good chemistry playing together in the long haul toward Olympic qualifying.
"I don't look at it as a sacrifice," Gibb said of the past year and a half. "I probably would stay home and play AVP (if not for the chance at the Olympics), but I also am getting paid to go see the world, and I would go to a lot of the spots we go to, amazing places.
"We played at the base of the Eiffel Tower. You've got to experience that once in your life. For me, it's an opportunity to just go play with the best in the world in front of a big audience, an opportunity to just go showcase our sport, so it's fun for me," he said."What I think I'll remember is the journey, because we have a year and a half process of qualifying, and it's an amazing journey."
Jake Gibbs' career volleyball earnings
Tournament ... seed ... finish ... points ... earnings
Paris Grand Slam ... 1 ... 5 ... 480 ... $13,200
Stavanger Grand Slam ... 2 ... 17 ... 160 ... $5,100
Berlin Grand Slam ... 7 ... 17 ... 160 ... $5,100
Gstaad World Championships ... 14 ... 5 ... 600 ... $18,000
Klagenfurt Grand Slam ... 13 ... 9 ... 320 ... $8,000
Adelaide Australia Open ... 18 ... 4 ... 420 ... $10,500
Prague Open ... 13 ... 1 ... 600 ... $28,000
Italian Open ... 7 ... 9 ... 240 ... $5,500
Zagreb Open ... 7 ... 7 ... 300 ... $7,000
Berlin Grand Slam ... 6 ... 9 ... 320 ... $8,000
Paris Grand Slam ... 8 ... 9 ... 320 ... $8,000
Stavanger Grand Slam ... 11 ... 5 ... 480 ... $13,200