Speaker | Host
Outstanding speaker, Sally Gunnell O.B.E. holds a place in the hearts of the nation as the most popular female sportswoman of our time, and our most successful. She is the only woman to hold four titles concurrently – Olympic, World, European & Commonwealth and also held the World Record for the 400m hurdles.
What an inspiration Sally Gunnell is. Hearing her talk about the life-changing journey she undertook, as she evolved from a 15 year old runner dreaming of greatness into an Olympic gold medal-winning champion, was both empowering and moving. Here at BT we are on a transformational journey of our own and it was a thrill for over 1,000 of us to hear Sally relate her experiences of overcoming setbacks and embracing change to the pioneering work we are doing as a technology company. “Run your own race” was Sally’s parting message: wise words from a fantastic role model, who also took the time to speak personally with as many of us as possible, helping to turn our day into a memorable occasion that will stay with us all for a very long time.
MD at IT and BT Technology Volunteering lead
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Read more about Sally Gunnell OBE
Sally Gunnell started athletics life as a pentathlete and long jumper with the Essex Ladies' club. Her explosive power made her a decent junior sprinter and she soon began to concentrate on the 100m hurdles. Gold at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games of 1986 seemed to confirm Gunnell's prowess at sprint hurdling, but by 1987 she was being encouraged to look at longer distances. In 1989, she took Gold at the European Cup 400m flat race in Gateshead; her speed endurance and mental toughness were becoming apparent. By 1990, she was hurdling again - with great success. She won the 1990 Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles title in Auckland; Gunnell had found her perfect event and grew rapidly in stature.
Tokyo's 1991 World Championships could so easily have brought her the Gold medal; in the lead at the penultimate hurdle, she glanced across at one of her rivals. That uncharacteristic split second of mental diversion left her with the Silver and a burning sense of disappointment. Gunnell returned to the track's biggest stage in 1992; the Barcelona Olympics. Months of hard graft paid off and she progressed to the 400m hurdles final without incident. An indifferent start to the biggest race of her life was soon forgotten as she engaged the Gunnell afterburner to blow away her rivals in the last 150 metres. Olympic Gold and a place in history were hers.
But Sally Gunnell was not finished yet. She worked even harder during the off-season of 1992/3, building in a raft of changes to her nutrition, physical and technical training; nothing was left to chance. Her coach knew exactly how to get her "peaked" in time for the World Championships in Stuttgart and all was going perfectly to plan with a week left. But on arrival in Germany, Gunnell developed a heavy cold. She hid this from her rivals and managed to battle through qualifying and make the final. Such was her state of illness the night before the race that she called a press conference to announce her withdrawal. At the last minute, she had a change of heart and pulled the conference. This proved to be an excellent decision; although feeling well below par, Sally stormed to the Gold, setting a new World Record in the process.
Although her later career was blighted by injury, eventually coming to an end in 1997, Gunnell's achievements in '92 and '93 assured her place in the history books. No other woman has held Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic track titles concurrently and although her world record has been broken by American athlete Kim Batten, her Stuttgart time remains a British record.
Sally Gunnell became part of the BBC Sport team and was a regular fixture on Athletics programmes throughout the Noughties, until 2006, interviewing athletes on the finish line and bringing the trackside atmosphere in to millions of living rooms across the UK. She has appeared in numerous TV shows including A Question of Sport and Total Wipeout. She is a regular on the Breakfast News sofas and conducts hundreds of radio interviews each year.
Whilst Sally was naturally a very talented runner, one thing she is very aware of is that although she had to train very hard physically, the amount of mental training was just as important. When she trained she focused strongly on imagining her best performance. It became so natural for her to think this way, that when she did run there was a time lapse before she realised that she had actually won the race rather than just imagined it. Sally went on to win Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth medals using these techniques. She now uses the same approach to bring health and fitness to a wider audience through non-threatening and easy to understand principles.
Sally Gunnell’s career on and off the track provides a unique insight into achieving a balance in life and proven recipes for success and fulfilment. During her career she adopted key principles and routines with her ‘team’ that delivered the results most people can only dream of. Now her off-track career has seen her combine commercial commitments with her community and charitable work, whilst being a mother and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Sally’s presentation relates to a wide cross-section of businesses in all sectors, providing realistic goal setting and fresh approaches that can apply to any of us. It is about delivering easy to follow concepts that relate to the broadest spectrum possible. It is not just another motivational talk from a top sportsperson. It is however, based on a combination of the basic ideas in Sally’s campaign for gold with some principles of wellbeing both physical and mental that she has gleaned from four years working with leading names in these fields.
Sally Gunnell has delivered motivational talks for companies including IBM, Royal Bank of Scotland, BT and Investors In People.