He’s 44 and this year was supposed to be the end.
Now, Jake Gibb said, “I have a fixed date. I’m done after 2021.”
That will be it, a beach volleyball career that has surpassed two decades as he made three Olympics and beat cancer twice. And, of course, he has an eye on playing in the Olympics one more time before transitioning into coaching.
“I was going to be done after this year, but now I’m going to play one more year,” Gibb said, admitting that his younger partner, Taylor Crabb, is a huge reason why. “I can’t just leave Taylor high and dry. And I get to play in the sport I love for one more year.”
Why not? Gibb and 28-year-old Taylor Crabb entered 2020 ranked eighth in the world and led the race for the two spots the USA men will get in what is now the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s a bummer to take a break when you feel you’re peaking as a partnership,” said the 6-foot-7 Gibb, who joined with Crabb in 2017.
“I think we played good volleyball all year, we just weren’t getting the finishes, losing some heartbreak matches,” Gibb said. “But even during that time when we were losing, I knew we were playing good ball. It wasn’t that sense that you’re losing, but you don’t know what’s going on.”
“I knew it was in us, and we had been playing well, but it’s nice to see the finishes represent how you think you’re playing.
Despite a string of ninths, 17ths, and 19ths early last year, Gibb was undeterred.
“It’s sticking to your plan, and not giving up. We know the stuff that we’re doing works, it’s just a matter of being effective.
“Definitely over the last few tournaments we’ve been playing well. At the end of last season I didn’t want that to end, we were grooving, and I felt like we started this year really well as a team.”
We actually interviewed while Gibb was on his way to get tested for coronavirus antibodies. He’s even played golf twice, which is hardly like prepping for an Olympic run.
“I’m a little stir crazy, sitting at home,” Gibb said. “It’s affected all of the athletes financially big-time. It’s just a matter of trying to stay motivated and keep working out. It’s harder when you don’t know what you’re working for.
“You don’t even know what’s going to happen, even if there’s going to be an AVP this year. It doesn’t sound like there’s going to be a FIVB. It’s affected me a lot, but it’s extended my career a year more that I wasn’t expecting. It’s a game-changer for me.”
Most people would think a positive one.
“I’ve heard from several people that it might be an advantage for me, not putting the mileage on my body,” Gibb said. “I feel great, but I miss playing volleyball. I like playing every week, so I don’t think there’s an advantage there. I really like just playing volleyball. I’d like nothing more than to have 20 tournaments a year and play almost every week.”
Of course, May is normally the heart of the beach season, with teams criss-crossing the globe for domestic and world tour events.
“My routine is varied, but the only thing I have to do each day is get a workout in. I have a bunch of weightlifting equipment at my house, that’s like two to two and half hours each day. Outside of that, once a week I get together with our coaches, and we watch film, sometimes on us, sometimes on other teams, and just discuss volleyball. And I’m peppering with my son (8-year-old Crosby) and that’s about it.
Gibb, is from Utah and has 10 siblings, including his twin brother Coleman. Coleman is six inches shorter and they took up beach volleyball at the relatively older age of 21. What’s more, Jake and his five brothers all have the middle name Spiker, which is their mother’s maiden name.
Gibb and his wife, Jane, a stay-at-home mom, also have a daughter, 5-year-old Cora.
“My family has always been my priority number one. Even my wife now, she doesn’t want to miss any tournaments I’m playing in, because we both know that it’s going to be over pretty soon, and she just loves watching it and being a part of it as well.
But Crosby, who is in the 95th percentile on the height charts, is a big fan.
“And interestingly enough, my son is now an avid watcher of Amazon Prime,” Gibb said. “He loves watching my matches on TV. He’s 8 years old, but he knows enough.” Like he calls the target location pop and knows when his pop misses the pop.
“He has these little nuggets. He kind of understands the game now, he really loves watching, and it’s been fun. That’s one of the biggest motivations for me to get to the next Olympics, to have my son see me play in an Olympics and actually understand that it’s pretty cool.”
His coach, Rich Lambourne, appreciates that Gibb has had few partners in his career in a sport where partner swapping is an art form. Gibb was with Rosenthal from 2006-2012 with the exception of one event each with Casey Jennings and Ty Loomis, was with Patterson from 2012-2016, and now has been with Crabb for three years.
“He’s really pretty unique in the beach volleyball space in that he’s had so few partners,” Lambourne said. “He’s had a few partners that have lasted a long time, which is a distinct advantage.
“I would attribute that to several things. One of the major factors is that he’s a vibes guy. That’s kind of an abstract concept, but he creates good vibes not only with his partner, but with a coach and anybody he works with, I think that’s hugely important to him.
“He’s kind of the human embodiment of an O-negative blood donor. He gets along so well with so many people and types of personalities. He’s capable of generating and sustaining those good vibes with his partners and team members.”
That’s not lost on Gibb.
“The older I get, the more I appreciate what I’m doing,” Gibb said. “When I go out on stadium court, and I’m playing against a great team, and there’s a packed crowd, I really appreciate and sit back and enjoy that now.
“When I was younger, I was just more focused on exactly what I need to do to try and win, and now I just appreciate that I’m even there. I appreciate the moment more in the moment, as opposed to going back and watching the video and saying, ‘Oh, wow, that was cool.’ ”
Gibb said last week’s announcement by the FIVB of exactly when the Olympic qualification period will be was settling.
“It’s exciting to be out of the darkness,” Gibb said. “It’s exciting to know what is next, and to plan our year now. It’s pretty much what we expected. In my mind it’s the fair and right thing to do.”
Crabb would have expected nothing less from his partner, who also has overcome cancer twice. Gibb had a malignant melanoma on his left shoulder in 2002 and then had testicular cancer in 2010.
“Jake is so positive, no matter what’s going on,” Crabb said. “His way of communicating what he needs or wants is everything you could ask for in a partner. Never once in our three to four years now has he talked down to me in any way, which is incredible coming from a guy who’s been around the sport for over 20 years, a three-time Olympian, and I’m this new guy coming up, especially when we teamed up.
“He’s always shown me the utmost respect, the belief and trust in me, which I think is very unique in our team dynamic, which is unusual with one guy being the three-time Olympian and the other guy that just started out on the beach. That’s one of his biggest qualities besides his volleyball skills.”
With this qualifier from Lambourne:
“There’s certainly that duality in his personality, where he’s so fun to be around, so engaging, but when it’s time to compete, he’s a high, high level competitor, whether it’s golfing, volleyball, or even ping pong,” Lambourne said of Gibb. “He’s trying to rip your heart out, and maybe let you know about it a little bit.”
Gibb had nothing but praise for the 6-foot Crabb, who as a junior was the 2013 AVCA national player of the year as an indoors star at Long Beach State.
“Boy, he just keeps getting better,” Gibb said of his partner who was the AVP most valuable player last year and also defensive player of the year in 2016, 2017 and 2019. “He gets better every single year. I think he’s still a couple of years from peaking, he’s playing some great volleyball. He’s a pleasure to play with.”
Crabb noted that Gibb is a serious sleeper and big breakfast eater.
“He doesn’t need it, but he likes to get 11, 12 hours of sleep. He’ll go to sleep very late, 11, 12, even 1 a.m., and he’ll sleep until 11, 12, or 1 if we don’t have to be anywhere,” Crabb said.
“He loves breakfast. He cannot miss breakfast. If breakfast closes at 10, he’ll set his alarm for 9:50. Also, if for some reason at night he can’t sleep, he’ll go to breakfast right when it opens, and he’ll have breakfast, and go right back to sleep until 1 p.m.”
They’re coached by Lambourne, the 2008 USA libero, and also get the benefit of getting help from USA Volleyball director of coaching Tyler Hildebrand and a supporting cast that includes strength coach Christian Hartford, physical therapist Michael Martinez, massage therapist Tony Poland and sports psychologist Peter Haberl.
Lambourne, Gibb said, “Is the foundation of our team. He decides what we’re working on, what we’re practicing, and what we do every single day at the beach. He also discusses with our strength coach what we need individually to work on, then he’s working with Tyler Hildebrand on what to work on when watching video. He’s our rock. He’s witnessed every single tournament, every single flight, every single hotel, he’s part of our core team.”
Lambourne prefers to downplay his role, given Gibb’s experience and expertise.
“The word coach is almost a misnomer in our particular relationship in that both he and Taylor have much more experience in the beach volleyball game than I do,” Lambourne said. “My role as a coach isn’t trying to teach them all different kinds of stuff. It’s more of a collaborative effort. I defer to them a lot game-plan-wise, because they have the experience playing against the teams and the players.”
In the race for the two USA spots in Tokyo, Gibb and Crabb lead with 6,680 points. Taylor’s brother, Trevor, and partner Tri Bourne are next with 6,360, while Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena had 5,840. Clearly, the race to the Olympics is up for grabs.
“Tri and Trevor are an excellent team, a split blocking team that can both play good defense,” Gibb said. “They’re unique in their talents. They’re both great hand setters, so it’s going to be a dog fight with those guys. They’re a really good team.
“Nick and Phil, I don’t know what else needs to be said about them. They’ve been the top players in the USA for the last two decades, so that’s going to be a battle as well. But I think there are three really good teams. It’ll be fun, it’ll be taxing, emotionally draining, but I can honestly say that that’s the best part of the Olympic experience.”
Regardless, when it’s all over, Gibb’s first move will be to coach, most likely kids but possibly in college.
“That’s the reason I went back and got my masters degree (in science education). I don’t want to coach at just any university in the country, it has to fit with where I want to live,” Gibb said. “I’m not sure that that will work, but if that opportunity worked out, then I would love to do it.”
Nevertheless, Gibb’s travelling days will be over.
“I’m not interested in coaching international teams or pros,” Gibb said. “I don’t want to travel. That’s the one thing that I don’t want to do. I would like that, and I think that I have a lot to offer, but not at the cost of traveling and being away from my family.”
Gibb has started some basic beach volleyball instructional videos on Instagram. Here is the most recent: