Inspirational Woman: Sally Gunnell OBE | Sports Speaker & Olympic Champion

Meet Sally Gunnell OBE

Sports Speaker & Olympic Champion

Former 400m Olympic Champion Sally Gunnell OBE enjoyed a phenomenally successful career where she held nearly every title there is to claim within her sport; Olympic Gold, World Championship titles, World CupsEuropean Championships and four consecutive European Cup victories, not to mention five Commonwealth titles, Sally Gunnell is undoubtedly one of the best female athletes to have ever been produced by this country. Retiring in 1997 through persistent injuries, Gunnell turned her attentions to media commitments and her role as a speaker, specifically as an Olympic Speaker and after dinner speaker, as well as a role as an ambassador for UK Sport.

An eloquent sports speaker, Sally set the World Record for the 400m hurdles in 1993- still to this day her time is the British record. After life as a professional athlete had come to an end, Sally began to undertake a multitude of media and commercial commitments, notably becoming a regular presenter with BBC helping with their athletics and sports coverage.

Since leaving BBC in 2006, Sally has gone onto feature on shows including ITV’s The Cube and Total Wipeout in aid of charity, she has also become a favourite within the speaker circuit, specifically as an Olympic speaker.

In this exclusive interview, courtesy of the Mental Health Speakers Agency, Sally Gunnell reflects on her career at the heights of sporting fame.

The Gold-medal winning Olympian is an expert on mental resilience and peak performance, having developed such skills as a track athlete. Sally is also a vocal supporter of gender equality in sport and experienced first-hand the pressure of succeeding in a male-dominated environment.

Hear Sally’s thoughts on encouraging female participation in sport, peak performance in the workplace, and more, in this exciting interview.

You are the only female British athlete to have won an Olympic, European and Commonwealth title; which personal qualities do you credit to such success?

“I think there are so many elements that you must get right!

“And I guess, when I look back at winning those titles, the big difference was the mindset. It was the last piece of the jigsaw; it was the piece I had to learn, and it was the piece I wasn’t very good at.

“I think once I had the tools to implement that, it just blew me away. I was amazed at what I could achieve with self-belief and by mentally preparing myself.”

Why is it important to encourage female participation in sport?

“It’s enormously important and to me – it’s much more around the confidence and the self-esteem [of female athletes].

“I think there’s been lots of reports out there of girls who are active from a young age, and how much more confident they are in themselves, how they are mentally stronger, and just the effect it can have on your own self-esteem and how you feel about yourself!”

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Have we achieved equality in sport and if not, what more needs to be done?

“I think we have come such a long way.

“When I think about 1992, I was the only woman out of the five of us who won, and I had to win to get that recognition. The pay was nowhere near the other guys that were involved in my sport, but to see where women’s sport has come over the last 30 years, I think it’s not just about equality around money.

“I think, yes, there are some sports that are equal and, yes, you can improve it, but I think it’s about media coverage. This isn’t just about the top end, which is the money side of it, it’s about the progress that women have and the programmes in place to help them progress.

“And that comes down to media coverage, that comes down to merchandise and sponsorship, all those sorts of things.

“That, to me, is what’s really important. And, yes, we’re getting there, but we’re still a little way off. And I think we just need to keep doing what we’re doing and have amazing role models, that is what women in sport need.”

How do you define peak performance, both in sport and business?

“Peak performance is very similar in sport and business.

“It’s about getting the best out of yourself, to perform at that high level. It’s looking at every little increment, every little percentage, and where you can improve as a person.

“It’s very similar, it’s about recovery, it’s about motivation, goal setting, it’s about working hard, it’s about ‘me time’, it’s about building resilience – it’s all those sorts of things! And it’s no different in businesses.

“It’s understanding that you can’t leave any one thing unturned if you want to perform day in, day out, at that high level.”

This exclusive interview with Sally Gunnell was conducted by Megan Lupton.

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