Thomas Coex, Getty Images
Brazil's Ricardo Santos blocks a kill attempt from the U.S.'s Jake Gibb in their quarterfinal beach volleyball match on Monday.

BEIJING — Four years ago, when the Brazilian beach volleyball tandem of Ricardo Santos and Emanuel Rego was winning the men's gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Bountiful native Jake Gibb was a year into living in California, two years into the pro tour and still a year or so away from teaming up with partner-to-be Sean Rosenthal.

Fast-forward to Monday night at the Beijing Olympics' Chaoyang Park Beach Volleyball Ground, where the U.S. side of Gibb-Rosenthal was playing in the quarterfinals against Ricardo-Emanuel — yes, Brazil's beach volleyball players are like their soccer-playing countrymen and go by their first names, not last.

Even though Gibb-Rosenthal came into the match with a series-record advantage over their opponents, the Brazilians showed their experience and savvy by eliminating the Americans 21-19, 21-16 and advance to the semifinals.

"We absolutely can beat them, but they played better than they've ever played against us," said Gibb, whose side had won four of its six previous meetings between the two. "They played really, really good volleyball against us."

And so ended Gibb and Rosenthal's magical run in the Beijing tournament, coming in seeded ninth and ripping off four straight victories before exiting tied for fifth, just a sniff away from a medal match.

"It's tough right now — tough to swallow — but we're going to take great things from this," Gibb said. "We played well in our first Olympics experience."

It was evident early in the first set and then throughout the match that Brazil's side was going to match the Americans and snuff out any momentum the U.S. two would try to develop.

"I thought we were playing well, and they were siding out at a high percentage, really seeing my block well," said Gibb, adding, "I felt like we were playing strong and going to take over the lead at any time and get going, but they stayed strong as well."

The U.S. side took an early lead in the opening points of the first set, the last time at 7-5 before Ricardo-Emanuel ripped off three straight points to take an 8-7 advantage. Gibb-Rosenthal would never lead again.

The Brazilians' margin was 17-13 before a pair of back-to-back blocks by Gibb helped bring the deficit to just 17-16. The Americans couldn't pull even the rest of the way and faltered 21-19.

The second set wasn't any closer, with the U.S. duo leading in the first couple of points before Brazil edged out, going up by three at 16-13 en route to the five-point victory.

Throughout the Beijing tournament, Gibb expressed his delight with the Chinese crowds that embraced beach volleyball, which for them is a relatively new and unknown sport.

He'll stay in Beijing through Saturday, spending time with his wife and family and getting out with his newly found free time after elimination. In short, he'll trade places with the Chinese and try to embrace their capital city.

"We'll stick around and experience a little bit of China," he said.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com