BEIJING For the first time in a week here in Beijing, the grey haze parted, with blue skies and puffy clouds visible overhead.
A perfect day for the beach and for Olympic beach volleyball.
Except Bountiful native Jake Gibb and his U.S. partner Sean Rosenthal were scheduled for another late-night preliminary-pool match, starting at 10, with the arena lights at Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground attracting a wide array of huge cicadas, grasshoppers and moths onto the sand court.
The Gibb-Rosenthal duo sidestepped the bothersome bugs just fine and sidestepped their opponents, Germany's Julius Brink and Christophe Dieckmann in the two-set minimum, 21-15, 21-13.
With just one pool match remaining, the upset victory the Americans are seeded ninth in the competition and the Germans sixth all but assures Gibb and Rosenthal a spot in the medal-round quarterfinals. The other three tandems in their group already have a loss.
Night starts. Bugs. Higher-seed Germans. A half-dozen fans in the stands wearing Justice League superhero costumes. Nothing not even playing Sunday night's opener in a drenching, lightning-laced thunderstorm is seeming to stop the Gibb-Rosenthal Express right now.
"Hey, it's my first Olympics," said Gibb of his play-anytime-and-any-condition mindset. "If it was snowing like it does in Utah, I'd still be playing."
And loving every minute of it, as he watches the Chinese embrace a new sport and feels inspired by rare patriotic encouragement.
The beach volleyball venue has all the trappings of the world pro tour 10-second soundbites from four decades worth of Top 40 pop hits blaring between every point and high-octane fans jumping and dancing throughout the match.
It's a Beijing beach party. The only give-away that it's still the People's Republic of China is the constant chants of "jia you" loosely translated as "Come on!" or "Go! Go!"
"The screaming Chinese fans it's crazy how they've embraced this sport," said Gibb, adding he was uncertain how the host nation would take to a sport it hadn't seen much before.
"For them to get fired up, it's so fun and special for me," he said.
As are the boisterous pro-American fans, since the world pro beach volleyball tour makes very few U.S. stops.
"For me, to have the chant of U-S-A going is unbelievable," he said. "It just gives me goose bumps."
In downing the Brink-Dieckmann duo, the taller Gibb who spends most of his time doing net work finished with a match-best five blocks. He added 11 kills to Rosenthal's 13.
"We're playing our best volleyball right now," Gibb said. "We've won three, four events this year the most ever in our three-year partnership. We feel like we're peaking."
And yet, he's quick to put it all in perspective, saying that while they're on a roll, they've got plenty of "stupid errors" to clean up.
"You don't win two matches and all of a sudden claim the title," he said.
But when you're beating the lightning, the bugs and the higher-seeded opponents, life is good at the beach.Even after dark.
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