Jon Ackerman, NBC Olympics
Only once before in their seven years as partners had Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal been the No. 1 seed at an FIVB World Tour event: June 2007 at the Paris Grand Slam. They placed fifth in that tournament and never saw the top seed again — until Thursday.
The fastest-rising team in the world earned top honors for this week’s Klagenfurt Grand Slam after winning in Rome and Gstaad, then placing runner-up in Berlin. It’s easily the best stretch of their careers. They probably would’ve been the No. 2 seed if Brazil’s Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti decided to play this week, but those are just minor details.
More important than their seed is how they’re playing, and Gibb and Rosenthal got off to an uneven start in Klagenfurt. They opened with a win over the main draw’s lowest seed, Estonia’s Kristo Kollo and Rivo Vesik (21-19, 21-12), but then fell to Sebastian Dollinger and Stefan Windscheif (20-22, 21-13, 19-21), a 17th seed from Germany.
It’s just a pool-play loss and those are nothing new to Gibb and Rosenthal. In both of their runs to titles this summer, they dropped a pool match before cruising to gold.
The No. 2 seed in Klagenfurt is the American pair we’re accustomed to seeing as a No. 1 seed, reigning Olympic champs Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. They’ve also been known to drop an early match or two, but had no such problems Thursday.
They beat Georgia’s Renato Gomes/Jorge Terceiro (21-15, 21-19) and the Netherlands’ Jon Stiekema/Christiaan Varenhorst (19-21, 21-17, 15-6), but will get a tougher test Friday from Poland’s Grzegorz Fijalek/Mariusz Prudel, who took bronze last week in Berlin.
It Gibb and Rosenthal don’t win their pool, which might be tough with the Germans at 2-0, they could end up on the same side of the elimination bracket as their compatriots. Hopefully not because with Emanuel and Alison absent, the American tandems have a great chance to square off for gold on Sunday.
That wouldn’t be a bad way to enter the Olympics.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.