USA Olympic beach partners Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson are hungry.
The 40-year-old Gibb, a two-time cancer survivor, is making his third trip to the Olympics after finishing fifth both in Beijing and London.
Patterson, 36, is making his Olympic debut after joining the FIVB tour in 2011. The two partnered in 2013 and things have gone extremely well. They won their second event together in Shanghai and overall have two gold, two silver, and two bronze medals on the world tour.
This year, Gibb/Patterson completed the Olympic qualification period in sixth place, which puts them in that critical top slot in their pool. Their results have been remarkably consistent of late, finishing fourth or fifth in the last eight events on the world tour. They have two medals during the qualification period, a gold at the St. Petersburg Open and a silver at the Grand Slam in Olsztyn, Poland.
“That’s been our constant focus,” Patterson said. “To get to the Olympics and try and win a medal. That’s been our constant drive. To fine tune small aspects of our game that we’ve been working on for the past four years. Hopefully we’re ready to go. We’re in a good spot where we’re at.”
“We’re prepared. Our understanding of where to go throughout the match, on how to adjust, is as high as I’ve ever had it in my career,” Gibb said. “I feel comfortable. I feel comfortable identifying our game plan, and what we’re doing out there is a very clear understanding for me. That brings me a confidence and peace knowing what to do throughout a match. How to game plan and how to adjust to what’s happening. It’s something we work on very diligently with our coach Tyler Hildebrand and his game management. I feel really comfortable with it right now.”
Gibb gives Hildebrand a lot of credit.
“Tyler brings a knowledge base that I’ve never had,” Gibb said. “I’ve been playing professionally for 16 years now, and my knowledge has tripled. He’s really a progressive thinker. He’s very much on top of the game and where it’s headed. He watches 20 hours of film a week and is a student of the game and does a good job of relaying that to us.”
The pair are interestingly both similar and different.
The 6-foot-6 Patterson was a star indoor volleyball player at BYU. He played indoor professional volleyball in Puerto Rico (2005, 2007, 2009) and Sweden (2006), earning the MVP award in the Puerto Rican league in 2009.
Patterson began competing in AVP qualifiers in 2003, and made his first main draws in 2007. He won his first event in 2009 in Brooklyn with Ty Loomis, the first win for either player. Patterson currently has a total of 14 wins on the AVP tour.
Gibb, 6-7, played at Utah. Gibb, the youngest of 11 children growing up, is a two time cancer survivor. He had a testicular tumor removed in 2010 and a malignant melanoma removed from his shoulder in 2004. He can thank the early detection of the testicular cancer to the USADA drug testing protocol, and has made a full recovery.
Both are Mormon and completed missions. Patterson did his in Little Rock, Arkansas, while Gibb went to in Costa Rica.
Gibb has competed on the AVP since 2000, when he made two of five main draw events. He has 26 wins on the AVP tour. In 2005 he began competing on the FIVB tour, accumulating six wins on the world tour.
From 2006 through 2012 Gibb competed with Sean Rosenthal, earning two fifth-place finishes in Beijing and London. Brazilians Defending gold medalists Emanuel Rego and Ricardo Santos ended his run in 2008, and Latvians Janis Smedins/Alexsandrs Samoilovs put them out of the tournament in London on their way to a bronze medal.
“I’ve played Jake and Casey a number of times this year on the AVP tour this year,” said 2008 gold medalist Todd Rogers. “They’re up and down a bit. They’ve trounced me in one of the games, and then the next game was really close.
“Casey has developed tremendously as a defender, he’s digging a decent number of balls, but his forte is transitioning so many of those balls into real points. If he can continue to do that and Jake can get on a hot streak, that team can beat anyone. I feel like Jake is a streaky blocker in my opinion. They’re a pretty decent serving team, I think a lot of it will depend upon if Jake can get it going at the net and force teams to get tentative. They will easily be in medal contention.”
Dain Blanton, the 2000 gold medalist and now NBC analyst, agrees with Rogers.
“I have a lot of confidence in Casey and Jake, it’s a matter of them putting it together,” Blanton said. “Jake has been to the Olympics twice, it’s Casey’s first time. You have to take it one match at a time, one point at a time … You just kind of have to put out of your head what other people expect of you, and I think that’s a dangerous team that can possibly shock some people and bring home a medal.”
Gibb/Patterson have an excellent chance of advancing in Rio. They have the firepower and weaponry that is unmatched in their pool. Their opponents are dangerous, and hoping to capitalize on an off day by the Americans. Look for Gibb/Patterson to side out well, giving them the freedom to play aggressive defense and take over their matches.
Will Gibb/Patterson win gold?
Their record so far has indicated that it is unlikely.
Are they capable of gold? Absolutely.
Will they medal? Based on their draw and performance, they will certainly be in medal contention. The world tour has unparalleled parity this year, as 13 different teams have won events this year. Every team in the draw is capable of pulling off an upset, but there are a very few teams that are capable of pulling off multiple upsets.
Gibb/Patterson are one of those teams, as they possess both the experience and athleticism to make an appearance on the podium.