Sally Gunnell

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Sally Gunnell
Gunnell in 1995
Personal information
Full nameSally Jane Janet Gunnell
Born (1966-07-29) 29 July 1966 (age 57)[1]
Chigwell, Essex, England
Height1.66 m (5 ft 5+12 in)[2]
Weight57.5 kg (9 st 1 lb)
Event400 m hurdles
ClubEssex Ladies
Medal record
Women's Athletics
Representing  Great Britain
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1992 Barcelona 400 m hurdles
Bronze medal – third place 1992 Barcelona 4x400 m relay
World Championships
Gold medal – first place 1993 Stuttgart 400 m hurdles
Silver medal – second place 1991 Tokyo 400 m hurdles
Bronze medal – third place 1993 Stuttgart 4x400 m relay
Goodwill Games
Gold medal – first place 1994 Saint Petersburg 400 m hurdles
IAAF World Cup
Gold medal – first place 1994 London 400 m hurdles
Gold medal – first place 1994 London 4x400 m relay
Bronze medal – third place 1989 Barcelona 400 m hurdles
European Championships
Gold medal – first place 1994 Helsinki 400 m hurdles
Bronze medal – third place 1990 Split 4x400 m relay
European Cup
Gold medal – first place 1993 Rome 400 m hurdles
Gold medal – first place 1994 Birmingham 400 m hurdles
Gold medal – first place 1996 Madrid 400 m hurdles
Gold medal – first place 1997 Munich 400 m hurdles
Silver medal – second place 1989 Gateshead 400 m hurdles
Silver medal – second place 1991 Frankfurt 400 m hurdles
European Indoor Championships
Gold medal – first place 1989 The Hague 400 m
Representing  England
Commonwealth Games
Gold medal – first place 1986 Edinburgh 100 m hurdles
Gold medal – first place 1990 Auckland 400 m hurdles
Gold medal – first place 1990 Auckland 4x400 m relay
Gold medal – first place 1994 Victoria 400 m hurdles
Gold medal – first place 1994 Victoria 4x400 m relay
Silver medal – second place 1990 Auckland 100 m hurdles

Sally Jane Janet Gunnell OBE DL (born 29 July 1966) is a British former track-and-field athlete, active between 1984 and 1997, who won the 1992 Olympic gold medal in the 400 metres hurdles. During a golden 24-month period between 1992 and 1994, Gunnell won every international event open to her, claiming Olympic Games, World Championship, European Championship, Commonwealth Games, Goodwill Games, IAAF World Cup and European Cup golds in the event, and breaking the British, European and World records in it. She is the only female British athlete to have won all four 'majors'; Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles,[3] and was the first female 400 metres hurdler in history to win the Olympic and World titles and break the world record. Her former world record time of 52.74 secs in 1993, still ranks in the world all-time top ten (as of 2022) and is the current British record. She was named World and European Female Athlete of the Year in 1993, and was made an MBE in 1993 and an OBE in 1998.

Early life[edit]

Gunnell was born in Chigwell, Essex, England to Les and Rosemary Gunnell, and grew up on the family's three-hundred-acre[4] farm and attended the local primary and West Hatch High schools in Chigwell.[citation needed]

Athletics career[edit]

Gunnell started out in athletics with the Essex Ladies club[5] as an accomplished long jumper and heptathlete, before specialising in hurdling. In 1984, she narrowly missed Olympic selection at both heptathlon, with a score of 5680 points and in the 100 metres hurdles, where she set a UK junior record of 13.30 secs.

In 1986, having won the AAAs and UK titles, Gunnell won the Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 100 metres hurdles in Edinburgh, ahead of Wendy Jeal and 1984 Olympic heptathlon champion Glynis Nunn. She would remain the UK number one in the event over the next four seasons and reach the semi-finals at the 1987 World Championships and 1988 Olympics in the event.

Gunnell first attempted the 400 m hurdles event in 1987, with a 59.9 clocking. In 1988, in her first full season at the event, she would reach the Olympic final in Seoul. At the Olympic trials in Birmingham, she broke the UK record with 55.40. In Seoul she would improve this twice, first to 54.48 in the semis then to 54.03, to finish fifth in the final. This would remain her best time in the event for three years.

In 1989, Gunnell won the European Indoor title at 400 metres. Outdoors, she finished second in the 400 m hurdles at the European Cup behind East Germany's Petra Krug, but ahead of Olympic silver medallist Tatyana Ledovskaya. In September at the World Cup, she was third behind Sandra Farmer-Patrick of the US and Ledovsakya, but this time ahead of Krug. In January 1990, she defeated 1988 Olympic champion Debbie Flintoff-King to win the Commonwealth title in Auckland. The 1990 summer season however was disappointing, when she only finished sixth at the European Championships.

Gunnell entered into the best phase of her career in 1991, improving her own three-year-old UK record three times. In Monaco she ran 53.78, in Zurich she ran 53.62, then at the World Championships in Tokyo, she won the silver medal behind Ledovskaya with 53.16, the then third fastest time of all-time. Ledovskaya won with 53.11.

Gunnell won the 400 m hurdles at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, running 53.23 to defeat Sandra Farmer-Patrick.[6] She also anchored the British 4 × 400 m quartet to a bronze medal. In 1993, she reached her peak, when she set the world record in the 400 hurdles to win gold in the World Championships in Stuttgart, winning in 52.74, narrowly ahead of Farmer-Patrick who ran 52.79, also inside the old record. This record was broken by Kim Batten in 1995, but is still the British record. Gunnell was the first female 400 metres hurdler to have won the Olympic and World titles and broken the world record, a feat since achieved by both Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin.

In 1994, Gunnell added the European title to her collection, winning comfortably in 53.33. She also won the Goodwill Games ahead of Kim Batten, successfully defended her Commonwealth title and won the World Cup title in London. 1994 was her third (and final) year as the world's number one. She missed most of 1995 due to injury, an injury from which she would never fully recover. Her defence of her Olympic title in Atlanta in 1996 was cut short when she pulled up injured in the semi-finals. This seemed a particularly cruel blow, as this race occurred on her 30th birthday.[7] Also in 1996, she worked as a Red Cross ambassador in Angola. In September 1997, she retired after a recurrence of an Achilles tendon injury forced her to pull out of the World Championships semi-final.

Gunnell remains the only woman to have won the European, World, Commonwealth and Olympic 400-metre hurdles titles.[8]

Gunnell is now involved as one of the ambassadors for McCain's Track & Field partnership with UK Athletics.[9]


Gunnell worked as a television presenter, predominantly for the BBC, until 2006.[citation needed] She also co-hosted the game show Body Heat (1994–96) on ITV with Mike Smith and Jeremy Guscott.[10]

Gunnell was one of the four celebrity guests in the ITV's You Bet! – Series 7 (1993–94), co-winning with Michaela Strachan, donating her winnings to a charity working to find a cure for breast cancer.[citation needed] In 1997, she was the recipient of the "big red book" on the This is Your Life programme.[citation needed]

In summer 2006, she was a celebrity showjumper in the BBC's Sport Relief event Only Fools on Horses.[11] She also won a Weakest Link Sporting Heroes Special, first broadcast on 25 July 2009 on BBC One.[citation needed]

She took part in a celebrity version of TV show Total Wipeout which aired on 2 January 2010.[12]

In 2012, Gunnell took part on ITV's The Cube and won £20,000 for her charity.[citation needed]


In the 1993 New Year Honours, Gunnell was made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) and in the 1998 Queen's Birthday Honours, she was made an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire).[13] In 2011, Gunnell was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex.[14]

In 2012, Sally was one of five Olympians chosen as part of a series body-casting artworks by Louise Giblin exhibited in London and copies being sold in aid of the charity Headfirst.[15]

Personal life[edit]

Gunnell is married to fellow athlete Jonathan Bigg, and has three sons; Finley, Luca and Marley. She lives in Steyning, in West Sussex, just outside Brighton.[16]

National titles[edit]

  • 7-times AAAs 100 m hurdles champion (1986–1989, 1991–1993)
  • 2-time AAAs 400 m hurdles champion (1988, 1996)
  • 2-time UK Champion – 100 m hurdles (1986) 400 m hurdles (1997)
  • 2-time AAAs Indoor Champion – 200 m (1987) 400 m (1988)

International competitions[edit]

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  Great Britain /  England
1983 European Junior Championships Schwechat, Austria 13th Heptathlon 5395
1986 Commonwealth Games Edinburgh, Scotland 1st 100 m hurdles 13.29
European Championships Stuttgart, West Germany 17th (h) 100 m hurdles 13.22 (wind: 0.0 m/s)
1987 World Championships Rome, Italy 10th (sf) 100 m hurdles 13.06
1988 European Indoor Championships Budapest, Hungary 4th 400 m 51.77
Olympic Games Seoul, South Korea 11th (sf) 100 m hurdles 13.13
5th 400 m hurdles 54.03
6th 4 × 400 m 3:26.89
1989 European Indoor Championships The Hague, Netherlands 1st 400 m 52.04
World Indoor Championships Budapest, Hungary 6th 400 m 52.60
World Cup Barcelona, Spain 3rd 400 m hurdles 55.25
1990 Commonwealth Games Auckland, New Zealand 2nd 100 m hurdles 13.12
1st 400 m hurdles 55.38
1st 4 × 400 m 3:28.08
European Indoor Championships Glasgow, Scotland 4th 400 m 53.38
European Championships Split, Yugoslavia 6th 400 m hurdles 55.45
3rd 4 × 400 m 3:24.78
1991 World Championships Tokyo, Japan 2nd 400 m hurdles 53.16
4th 4 × 400 m 3:22.01
1992 Olympic Games Barcelona, Spain 1st 400 m hurdles 53.23
3rd 4 × 400 m 3:24.23
1993 World Championships Stuttgart, Germany 1st 400 m hurdles 52.74
3rd 4 × 400 m 3:23.41
1994 European Championships Helsinki, Finland 1st 400 m hurdles 53.33
4th 4 × 400 m 3:24.14
Commonwealth Games Victoria, Canada 1st 400 m hurdles 54.51
1st 4 × 400 m 3:27.06
World Cup London, England 1st 400 m hurdles 54.80
1st 4 × 400 m 3:27.36
1996 Olympic Games Atlanta, United States DNF (sf) 400 m hurdles 55.29 (heat)
1997 World Indoor Championships Paris, France 13th (h) 400 m 53.05
6th 4 × 400 m 3:32.25
World Championships Athens, Greece DNS (sf) 400 m hurdles 54.53 (heat)
(#) Indicates overall position in qualifying heats (h) or semifinals (sf)

Note: Represented Great Britain in all events excluding the Commonwealth Games, where she represented England and the 1989 World Cup, where she represented Europe.


  1. ^ "Sally Gunnell". Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 17 April 2020. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  2. ^ "Sally Gunnell". British Olympic Association. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  3. ^ Sophie Hahn and Hannah Cockroft have won Paralympic, World Para, European Para and Commonwealth Games gold.
  4. ^ Running Tall, Sally Gunnell and Christopher Priest, Bloomsbury, 1994, pp. 25–6
  5. ^ "Woodford Green Athletic Club with Essex Ladies". Archived from the original on 3 February 2002. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  6. ^ "Home". Archived from the original on 7 September 2007.
  7. ^ "Essex – Features – Essex at 20: Sally Gunnell". BBC. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  8. ^ "BBC SPORT | Commonwealth Games 2002 | BBC Coverage | Sally Gunnell". BBC News. 18 July 2002. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  9. ^ "McCain Track & Field – Meet The Athletes: Sally Gunnell". Archived from the original on 14 September 2011. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  10. ^ "Body Heat". UK Game Shows. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  11. ^ "Celebs saddle up for Sport Relief". Newsround. CBBC. 8 June 2006. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  12. ^ Episode #2.11, 2 January 2010, retrieved 27 January 2020
  13. ^ "Queens Birthday Honours | Sports stars share honours". BBC News. 13 June 1998. Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  14. ^ Walker, Tim (10 October 2011). "Sally Gunnell to be Queen's loyal lieutenant". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 October 2011.
  15. ^ "Louise Giblin body cast sculptor". Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  16. ^ David Morgan Super Sally's Spanish Success at the Wayback Machine (archived 11 December 2000) Sporting Life (PA Sport), 11 December 2000

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Women's European Athlete of the Year
Succeeded by
Sporting positions
Preceded by Women's 400 m Hurdles Best Year Performance
Succeeded by