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Sally Jane Janet Gunnell attended West Hatch High School in Chigwell, Essex, east of London. Long Jump and the Pentathlon were her sports before she graduated to sprinting and the hurdles that would change her life.
In 1980 as a junior she picked up a bag full of awards and records, including those for the 100m hurdles. But it was only when she turned professional and moved on to the longer 400m hurdles event that her domestic dominance was established. In 1988 Gunnell set four British records and finished fifth at the Olympic Games in Seoul.
On Wednesday August 5th 1992 Sally Gunnell became the first British woman to win a track gold medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Gunnell looked every bit the captain of the British Women’s Olympic team in the final of the 400m hurdles. The race was between her and America’s Sandra Farmer-Patrick, who finished in 2nd place with silver. Gunnell posted a gold medal-winning time of 53.23 seconds and went on to pick up a bronze as part of the Women’s 4x400m relay team.
Injuries blighted Gunnell’s preparations for the Atlanta Games four years later and although she finished 2nd in her heat she pulled up injured at the semi-final stage, unable to continue the defence of her Olympic title on what was her 30th Birthday.
Gunnell retired from competition in September 1997 after failing to recover fully from her Achilles tendon injury. She remains the only woman to have held the European, World, Commonwealth and Olympic 400 metre hurdles titles at the same time.