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Beach volleyball duo bid a golden farewell at London Games

By Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 4:21 AM EDT, Thu August 9, 2012
Gold medallists Misty May-Treanor, left, and Kerri Walsh Jennings celebrate winning the Gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 8, 2012.
Gold medallists Misty May-Treanor, left, and Kerri Walsh Jennings celebrate winning the Gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 8, 2012.
  • Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings won a third consecutive gold medal
  • The American duo extended their undefeated Olympic streak to 21-0
  • In three Games, they gave up only one set -- to Austria
  • "Beach volleyball is not going to be my career anymore," May-Traenor says

(CNN) -- The Olympic journey of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings ended where it all began: In the sand.

Minutes after winning their third consecutive Olympic gold medal in women's beach volleyball on Wednesday, the American duo announced an end to what is considered one of the winningest partnerships of the Games.

May-Treanor, 35, and Walsh Jennings, 33, made history by putting away fellow Americans April Ross and Jennifer Kessy in two sets, 21-16, 21-16, to extend their undefeated streak in three successive Games to 21-0. They lost only one of 43 sets.

"Beach volleyball is not going to be my career anymore," May-Traenor told reporters shortly after the match. "It's time for me to be a wife. I want to be a mom. I want to share this time with my family.

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All of us athletes sacrifice more of the family than people maybe realize. It's getting back to that. My mind says it's time, my body says it's time. It's the right time. It's time for me now to help the next generation."

Walsh Jennings is looking toward a possible fourth Olympic appearance at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings partnership on the sand is the stuff of Olympic legend: A nearly 12 year partnership that helped elevate the sport to one of the hottest tickets at the Games.

The two first teamed up in 2001 after less than satisfying performances at the 2000 Games in Sydney. May-Treanor finished 5th with then partner Holly McPeak in beach volleyball, while Walsh Jennings played on the women's indoor team.

By the time the two hit Athens in 2004, they were already a force to be reckoned with having won international titles.

But it was on the sand in Athens where they started their golden run -- and their shutout. By the time they hit Beijing in 2008, they were full-fledged celebrities with endorsements and television appearances.

They took an extended break in 2009-2010, with Walsh Jennings giving birth twice and May-Treanor recovering from a torn Achilles tendon that she ruptured while preparing for a turn on "Dancing with The Stars."

The break raised questions about whether the two would ever play together again.

May-Traenor had decided not to play in 2011, while Walsh Jennings was preparing for a run at the London Games with a different partner.

As the story goes, just before the start of the 2011 season, May-Traenor reached out to Walsh Jennings and said she was ready to play again.

They met in California where Walsh Jennings asked the big question: "Are you all in?" May-Traenor told NBC recently.

The answer: Yes.

But there were things to work out, on the sand and off.

The two admitted to reporters during the London Olympics to attending relationship counseling to improve their communication skills -- and their game.

Heading into Games, they weren't the favorites after less than golden performances in international competition.

They struggled a bit. Walsh Jennings was diagnosed with pinkeye, and their winning streak looked to be in jeopardy after they lost a set to Austrian sisters Stefanie and Doris Schwaiger.

The duo roared back, though, looking like the team of old.

By the time they made it to the gold medal round, a capacity crowd that included royalty and celebrities -- from Prince Harry to David Beckham -- turned out to watch what May-Traenor had said months earlier would likely be her last match.

In two sets, played just over 38 minutes, May-Traenor and Walsh Jennings completed their Olympic journey.

"I wanted to do this for her and finish in this way for both of us," May-Treanor said. "We've lived so much life together."

Walsh Jennings turned to her teammate and said: "It's been 11 years of fun and crazy time. You are a dear, dear friend ... and I'm glad that you went out the way you deserved."

The two women held hands -- united in victory and accomplishment -- as the American flag was raised and the National Anthem was played in their honor.

There, on a podium in the sand, they bid a golden farewell.

CNN's Laura Smith-Spark and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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