Utah native set to make history at Tokyo Olympic Games

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LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA – JULY 19: In this handout image provided by AVP, Jake Gibb competes against Nick Lucena (not pictured) and Phil Dalhausser (not pictured) in the final during the Monster Hydro Cup on July 19, 2020 in Long Beach, California. (Photo by Mpu Dinani/AVP via Getty Images)

(ABC4) – Just weeks away from making Olympic history, Utah native Jake Gibb has been on a grueling regimen of physical training, strict diet control, international travel, and other obligations.

But before he leaves for Japan to participate in the 2020 Summer Olympics, he’s going to Disneyland.

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“I just got back from a two-week trip to Sochi and the Czech Republic, so we’re going to pull the kids out of school. We have some tickets that are expiring today, so we’re going to do that,” Gibb laughs while juggling a phone call with ABC4 and a conversation with a Disneyland Resort cast member.

When Gibb leaves for the Tokyo Games next month, which were originally scheduled for last summer, he will be without family and friends at the Olympics for the first time. A veteran of three previous Summer Games, the 45-year-old from Bountiful who now lives in Huntington Beach, Calif., is preparing to re-write the record books as the oldest volleyball player – beach or indoor – in Olympic history.

He jokes that when he and his partner, Taylor Crabb, hit the sand in Tokyo in July, he will be facing duos whose combined ages don’t reach his own.

While Gibb says he will take some pride in holding the accolade of oldest Olympic volleyball player ever, his age doesn’t cross his mind when he’s playing.

“I think it’s cool, but I worked my a** off so that doesn’t play a role in the game,” he explains. “I never think about my age on the court.”

Gibb and Casey Patterson of United States play in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Maintaining his ability at a world-class level as the years add up has become increasingly more challenging each year, he says. The diet has to be more “dialed-in,” the sports psychology training has also evolved as Gibb has progressed through his career.

Additionally, he has had to learn how to play with a different partner. Crabb, a Hawaiian-born former collegiate star who is also 16 years his younger, will be the third different partner that Gibb will play with on the world’s biggest stage.

While they’ve been together for five years, Gibb states that building the comradery with another player is a “crazy dynamic.” The time they spend together reminds Gibb of his days serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Costa Rica.

“You’re spending every waking second with this guy, you’re eating every meal with this guy, it’s very similar to the mission experience there, but then you’re making a living with them,” Gibb explains.

Gibb (playing partner of Sean Rosenthal) during the Men’s Beach Volleyball quarterfinal match between the United States and Latvia on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games.. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

“I had to get along to play with a kid from BYU once. That’s never easy,” the University of Utah graduate jokes.

At the University of Utah, Gibb, who stands at a lean 6-foot-7, played on a club program at the school. Before that, he was invited to play with Davis High School’s club volleyball team. Other than those experiences, and some time messing around in his backyard, he hadn’t played elite-level beach volleyball until he was 21 years old after moving to South California.

A decade later, Gibb made his Olympic debut at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

During his volleyball career, Gibb has been struck by a number of challenges. A two-time cancer survivor, he had a malignant melanoma removed from his shoulder in 2002, and was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010.

His battles with cancer are brought up in the media each Olympics, but Gibb doesn’t consider that “annoying.” He doesn’t even think about his experiences with cancer at all.

“It’s really not part of my life right now,” Gibb states. “Besides going and getting checkups with the doctor, it literally hasn’t played any role in my life.”

While he has since been to the Games in London and Rio de Janeiro, Gibb considers that first trip to the world stage in China as the highlight of his Olympic career.

Gibb prepares to serve during the men’s beach volleyball qualifying match between the USA and Austria at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo by LEON NEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

“It was just so cool just the energy to kind of feel that for the first time was just so unique and it’s something I’ll never forget,” he says while looking for parking on Harbor Blvd. in Anaheim.

For his presumptive final trip to the Olympics, Gibb will be in a tightly controlled bubble in Japan as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a grip on the country. Olympic hardware has evaded him thus far in his career, but he says he’s not worried about getting to the medal rounds or reaching the podium.

He just wants to get the first match taken care of.

“It’s not like a one game at a time kind of thing, it’s just reality,” he explains. “I understand we’re not metal favorites. But at the same time, we can beat anybody in the world. It’s one of the things that I have zero expectations and it’s going to be fun to go out there.”

But first, a ride with his family on Space Mountain awaits.

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