Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal are going back to the Olympics, and this time they might be peaking at the right time.
The Americans clinched enough points for a trip to the London Games on Saturday when they beat Latvia in the quarterfinals of an FIVB Grand Slam event in Rome -- the final event of a two-year qualifying process. That made it impossible for the No. 3 U.S. team, Nick Lucena and Matt Fuerbringer, to pass them.
Each country can send a maximum of two men's teams and two women's teams to the Olympics.
"It's kind of like a golfer that's getting his swing right into a groove heading into a major," their coach, Mike Dodd, said in a telephone interview from Rome. "These guys have been building, each weekend a better and better finish."
Defending Olympic gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser had already clinched a berth in London, as had Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, the No. 1 U.S. women's team and the two-time defending Olympic champions. The other U.S. team is first-timers April Ross and Jennifer Kessy.
Gibb and Rosenthal lost in the quarterfinals of the Beijing Games in their Olympic debut.
"I think they're in such a better place," Dodd said. "They've been there before, and all of that helps. But more importantly they're really hitting a great stride right into the Olympics. They weren't at that same level four years ago."
Gibb and Rosenthal won their semifinal match against Switzerland later Saturday to earn a trip to the tournament finals.
But they had already accomplished their goal.
"Not everything," Rosenthal said by telephone. "We still have work to do."
Most Olympic beach volleyball berths are earned over a two-year process in which teams earn points on the international professional tour. Gibb and Rosenthal were trailing by as many as 400 points after this season's opener, but they took the lead this spring and pulled away with a trip to the quarterfinals in Moscow last week when Lucena and Fuerbringer lost in the round of 16.
"We were trailing by 400 points after Brazil," Gibb said. "At that point we were just, `Let's put our heads down and grind and let's see if we can have a chance going into the final tournament."
But Gibb and Rosenthal actually took a 200-point lead into Rome, meaning Lucena and Fuerbringer would have to finish several spots ahead of them to grab the last Olympic spot. Gibb and Rosenthal beat their countrymen in pool play and matched them in the semifinals, making it impossible for Lucena and Fuerbringer to pass them.
"It's been a long emotional year for us, battling with them," Rosenthal said. "We felt like whatever team did qualify, this battle that we had is going to help the team out. It will definitely help that we've played a lot of meaningful matches."