Americans Jake Gibb, left, and Sean Rosenthal talk strategy during a timeout… (Dave Martin / Associated…)
LONDON — As night descended on center court at Horse Guards Parade, a gentle rain began to fall.
In that moment, you could see it and feel it, the gloom that had settled over the American men in beach volleyball.
Fourth-seeded Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal fell in three sets to 17th-seeded Martins Plavins and Janis Smedins of Latvia on Monday evening, marking the second time in four days that a U.S. pair had been upset.
That means no American men will stand on the podium in this sport at the 2012 London Olympics.
"We were down a few points but we always thought we were going to come back," Rosenthal said. "It's a tough loss."
Last Friday, defending champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser dropped out in the round of 16, defeated by a low-ranked Italian team in straight sets. Gibb and Rosenthal lost a much closer quarterfinal match.
The pair started off well, winning the first set, 21-19, with Gibb making play after play at the net. But he did not expect Plavins and Smedins to go quietly.
"I've always had trouble with that team," he said. "They're very quick and it's hard to spot them."
Constantly shifting, the undersized Latvians started reaching more balls on defense, turning difficult situations to their advantage.
"Don't be afraid of the other team," Smedins said when asked about the pair's philosophy. "Just show your best."
They pulled out a close second set, 21-18, and seemed to gain confidence with each succeeding point. The final set, 15-11, wasn't as close as the score might suggest.
Smedins nailed a shot in the far corner to put his team up 6-2. Then he and Plavins made just enough plays to maintain that cushion the rest of the way.
No team from their country has ever reached the semifinals in Olympic beach volleyball before. As Plavins said: "Every win in the Olympic Games is a huge win for Latvia."
As for the Americans, they can only wonder what might have been.
With Rogers and Dalhausser gone, and the top-seeded Brazilian duo of Emanuel Rego and Alison Cerutti barely escaping an upset of their own earlier in the day, Gibb and Rosenthal had liked their chances.
The final point left them standing, hands on hips, dejected.
Gibb might have been talking for all of his compatriots when he said: "I really felt like we were medal contenders. I'm just very disappointed right now."
Plavins and Smedins will play Cerutti and Rego in one semifinal; Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann of Germany will play Reinder Nummerdor and Rich Schuil of the Netherlands in the other.