LONDON – First the drug tester told American beach volleyball player Jake Gibb that he was suspended.
Then he said to call a doctor.
A quick Internet search told Gibb the abnormal levels of hormones in his blood were most often found in pregnant women, steroid users and men with testicular cancer. A biopsy soon confirmed what he had already concluded. The doping ban was subsequently lifted, but Gibb was expected to miss the Olympics anyway while recovering.
“The Olympics were out,” he said in a video posted to his website in the days leading up to the London Games. “It was a tough dream to let go of. The toughest part was telling people and letting them know. Because once it came out of my mouth, it felt real.”
But surgery got the cancer – all of it, meaning Gibb didn’t need chemotherapy. He got back on tour with partner Sean Rosenthal and earned enough points to qualify for the London Games in the very last event of the year.
Now, Gibb is a two-time Olympian.
And a two-time cancer survivor.
“The pinnacle of our sport is the Olympic games. For me to go and put USA on my chest, it means the world to me. It’s something so special,” said Gibb, who has a scar on his left shoulder from a 2004 skin cancer. “It almost wasn’t a reality to me. I was scared. I didn’t know anything about it, didn’t know how to react.”
Gibb and Rosenthal, who finished fifth in Beijing, won their first match in the 2012 Games but lost their second on Monday night against Poland. Asked in London about all that has transpired since the 2008 Olympics, Gibb politely referred a reporter to his website and declined to discuss it.
“It’s too emotional,” he said, his voice cracking. “The facts are out there and you can find what you need. But if I start talking to you, I’m going to start breaking down.”
Rosenthal also said he didn’t want to revisit the details.
“It was tough at first, but he’s such a strong guy,” he said. “He was working as hard as anybody.”
According to spokesman Hans Stolfus, whose agency represents Gibb and helped produce the video at jakegibb.com, Gibb was told by USADA in December 2010 that he had abnormal levels of alpha fetoprotein and beta-hCG in his blood and he would be suspended for doping. (Beta-hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is often taken by steroid users to combat testicular shrinkage that is a side effect of the performance- enhancing drugs.)
Before the tester hung up, he told Gibb to go see a doctor immediately – but he would not say why, Stolfus said. Gibb’s Internet search found a lot of references to AFP and beta-hCG for pregnant women but only one explanation in men: testicular cancer.
“USADA actually saved his life,” Stolfus told the Associated Press.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.