Sally Gunnell OBE, DL

Athlete, Olympian, Presenter, Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European champion hurdler.

Sally Gunnell’s career saw her win World Championships silver in 1991, Olympic gold in 1992 and World Championships gold in a world record in 1993. In the Commonwealth Games she won in gold in 1986, 1990 and 1994. She was ranked number one in the world in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 and held the UK 400m hurdles record for over 20 years.

Sally Gunnell on her way to winning the 1988 WAAA Championship 100m hurdles.
Photograph Courtesy of Mark Shearman

Gunnell joined Essex Ladies as a junior in 1977. Initially a multi-eventer, she won the WAAA and English Schools Junior Championship long jump title in 1980 before going on to set UK age group heptathlon bests in 1983 and 1984 with 100m hurdles her best event of the multi-format, she set the UK junior record of 13.30 in 1984.

Sally recalls the importance of the WAAA as she was coming up:

They played a crucial and important part in my sport, navigating and organising the help and support I needed to get me through the system. Even down to being led by the late great inspiring Dame Marea Hartman!

Sally Gunnell

The inclusion of 400m hurdles, which was to become her specialist event and the one in which she won most titles began in 1987, although she kept racing both distances. At the 1990 Commonwealth Games Sally won gold in 400m hurdles, silver in the 100m hurdles and gold again as a member of the 4x400m relay team, running the third leg. She took gold in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic 400m hurdles final, and bronze in the 4x400m relay team. In 1993 she broke the world record for 400m hurdles and won the World Championships in Stuttgart. In 1994 she had victories at the European Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Cup. This incredible run of victories means that Sally is one of only a very select group of athletes to have held Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European athletics titles.

On the influence of women in athletics Sally recalls:

When I was competing, it was a very male dominated environment. Instead of seeing that as negative I used it to fuel my motivation to compete and excel.  Equally I drew much inspiration and motivation from the female athletes around me. Collectively we wanted to show we were just as competitive as our male counterpart. We were our own, best advocates!

Sally Gunnell
Gunnell (11) on her way to winning 100m hurdles gold in Birmingham 1989, with Kay Morley (19) taking second place.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Shearman

Gunnell was awarded an MBE in 1993, an OBE in 1998, and was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex in 2011.