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Maria Antonelli during her last Beach Pro Tour victory, in the Uberlandia Elite16 2022 main draw

Maria Elisa Antonelli played the last tournament of her remarkable beach volleyball career and bid farewell to the sand courts, at least competitively. Last weekend, at the age of 39, the London 2012 Olympian and 2014 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour season champion appeared in Saquarema, at the third stop on this year’s Brazilian national tour with her last partner Fernanda Alves for an emotional celebration of the end of 23 years as an active athlete.

“I'm very emotional. I’m crying all the time,” she told “But I am sure of my decision. I stayed away from the courts for four months to be sure. I found out that I played volleyball for my past, not for my future. This bothered me a lot. My body was in condition, but the brain was saturated.”

Maria Elisa made her world-level debut at the 2004 FIVB U21 World Championship in Porto Santo, where she and Nina Vieira started from the qualifiers to make it all the way to the quarterfinals for a fifth-place finish. Two years later, she started competing on the World Tour. In 2007, Maria picked up her first world-level medals: two golds, a silver and a bronze with Vanilda Leao at four FIVB Challenger and Satellite events in Europe.

Maria Elisa started piling up her impressive World Tour medal collection in 2008 with her first silver in Marseille and her first gold in Kristiansand. Once she teamed up with Talita Antunes in 2009, Maria stepped up her results and that year she claimed her first FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship bronze in Stavanger. Turning into one of the top pairs on the World Tour, Maria Antonelli & Talita went on to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games, where they achieved a ninth-place finish. The two reunited briefly in 2013 to represent Brazil at the inaugural FIVB Beach Volleyball World Cup Finals in Campinas and triumphed with the trophy.

After a season with Agatha Bednarczuk as a teammate, in 2014 Maria had a successful three-year partnership with Juliana Felisberta, during which they emerged as 2014 World Tour season champions and she picked up her second World Championship bronze in the Hague in 2015. In the following years, the prominent defender went through several more partners and by the end of 2019, she had collected a total of 12 gold, 19 silver and 14 bronze medals on the World Tour.

Teaming up with Fernanda in the fall of 2021, she played at the very last World Tour event in history, the Itapema 4-star, as well as four stops on the inaugural 2022 Volleyball World Beach Pro Tour season with her best result a fifth-place finish at her very last world-level appearance, at the Uberlandia Elite16 in November.

After ending her athletic career, Maria Elisa plans to spend more time with her husband and their two-year-old son Lucca.

“My husband always lived for my sport too,” she said. “Volleyball has always been in first place at home. Now he is getting his medical degree and the time is right for that change.”

Careerwise, Maria has plenty of options, not without help from the Brazilian confederation’s ‘Star Trek’ career transition programme. She has a degree in Physical Education, took a postgraduate course in Sports Psychology, started studying Psychology, opened a beach volleyball and beach tennis training centre and, most recently, signed with TV Globo as a commentator. She debuted in her new role at the Beach Pro Tour Saquarema Challenge two weeks ago.

“I'm sure I'm on the right path, which gives me peace of mind. My beach now will be different,” Maria said.

Her love for beach volleyball could also make her return to the courts soon, in a different role.

“I took the relevant courses and I can coach both beach volleyball and beach tennis now. Today I manage the school, but who knows?” she hinted. “My husband and I plan to have a practice together. He in medicine and I am in psychology. But I would like, for example, to be a psychologist for an Olympic team...”

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