Jon Ackerman, NBC Olympics
LONDON — Jake Gibb stared blankly at the wall for a good 45 seconds. He then closed his eyes for another 15. Never once did he think he’d leave London without a medal.
“That’s definitely the worst loss of my career,” he said minutes later.
Gibb and partner Sean Rosenthal were three points away from advancing to the semifinals at their second Olympics. It was exactly where they expected to be.
But then Latvia’s Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins scored six of the next seven points. Twelve minutes later, Gibb and Rosenthal were left to ponder what happened.
“I really felt we were going to go win a medal,” Gibb said. “I just had that feeling, and to not get it is really disappointing. Really disappointing.”
The fourth-seeded Gibb and Rosenthal were upset by the 17th-seeded Latvians Monday night despite winning the first set of their quarterfinal match. The duos were tied in the second game at 18, at which point Latvia called a time out to regroup. It worked.
Smedins came out and blocked a Rosenthal attack, then two Plavins digs resulted in two more points to take the second set. Latvia jumped to a 3-1 lead in the deciding game, and the Americans could get no closer. They fell 21-19, 18-21, 11-15.
The result is the same exact fifth-place finish Gibb and Rosenthal earned four years ago at the Beijing Games. But this one is sour.
“It feels a lot different,” Rosenthal said. “(2008) was our first (Olympics), we lost to the defending gold medalists and the No. 1 team for five consecutive years on the tour at that point (Emanuel Rego/Ricardo Santos of Brazil). I’m not saying we were supposed to win this or supposed to win that one, but it’s definitely a tough loss.”
This one’s tough to swallow not only because Gibb and Rosenthal lost to a team 13 seeds lower, but because the Americans were enjoying the best stretch of their careers leading up to London.
They endured a 15-month qualifying battle with compatriots Matt Fuerbringer and Nick Lucena just to earn the second U.S. men’s Olympic berth behind 2008 champs Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, then caught fire once clinching that spot. Gibb and Rosenthal won medals at each of the four international tournaments preceding London, and actually carried the world’s No. 1 ranking for 2012 into the Olympics.
That means nothing now.
These Games are the biggest tournament of the year, and the culmination of a four-year focus. It’s a cruel place for a hot streak to come to an end.
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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.