Gunnell started out in athletics with the Essex Ladies club as an accomplished long jumper and heptathlete, before specialising in hurdling.
£5K – £10K
Gunnell started out in athletics with the Essex Ladies club 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 USA 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. 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 is one of only two female 400 metres hurdlers (the other is Dalilah Muhammad) to have won the Olympic and World titles and broken the world record. 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. 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. Gunnell is now involved as one of the ambassadors for McCain’s Track & Field partnership with UK Athletics.
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