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Carl De Souza, Getty Images
Jake Gibb (1) and Sean Rosenthal (2) of the U.S. celebrate after beating Germany in the preliminary round of the Beijing Olympics.

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.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com