The rise and rise of Sally Gunnell

By at home

sally gunnell_osbg_19_10_12Not only has Sally won an Olympic gold medal, she has also built an impressive career trajectory…

Having had such a successful career in her chosen sport, it would be easy to assume that Sally’s athletics earnings supported her financially during and after her career on the track. However, unlike football, this is not one of those sports that pays enough to last a lifetime. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when Sally was in her peak, sponsorship deals weren’t as lucrative as they are now. So, as well as punishing training it was all hands on deck to find a job that was flexible, that used her skills and allowed her to still be able to go to competitions for what could be weeks at a time. And then when she retired from athletics she needed something to get her teeth into to channel all that Olympic energy…

Sally started her first job at 16, working in a local pub at lunchtime so she could fit in training in the morning and afternoon.

At 17, Sally moved on to a part-time job at accountancy firm, Pannell Kerr Forster, where she worked two days a week in the research department. She was able to work while putting in enough training hours to progress in her athletics career.

Sally’s hurdling career sky rocketed, with the highlights including an Olympic gold medal in the 1992 Games, and going on to set a new world record as she took gold at the World Championships in 1993.

Having retired from athletics aged 31, Sally joined Channel 4 to present domestic athletics coverage alongside fellow Olympian, Steve Cram. She also set up her own business with her husband, Jonathan Bigg, giving motivational talks to companies around the country to help business people become their best. Expertise, mentality and organisation were three key factors that shaped Sally’s successful athletics career and her speeches now focus on how to take these principles from sport to business, addressing issues including dealing with setbacks, setting goals for success, sustaining excellence and creating a work/life balance.

At the age of 32, Sally joined the BBC when it regained the athletics television contract and became part of the BBC Sport team. For eight years she was a regular fixture on athletics programmes, interviewing athletes on the finish line and bringing the trackside atmosphere to millions of living rooms across the UK. She has appeared in numerous TV shows including A Question of Sport and Total Wipeout, and is also a regular on the breakfast news sofas. Sally now conducts hundreds of radio interviews a year, too.

ActionAid – Sally recently visited Africa to run in the 10km Great Ethiopian Run, described as ‘the world’s toughest fun run’. She was invited to promote and support the charity while thousands of people cheered along the route in Addis Ababa.

Team GB 2012 Ambassador – for the Games, both before and during the event, Sally is getting involved in helping the athletes and their families, giving advice where possible and getting out there to promote the event.

Sally Gunnell’s Healthy Living
– a second business set up by Sally and her husband, Jonathan, this is a bespoke workplace wellbeing programme that helps companies tackle health, wellness and CSR (corporate social responsibility) issues. The idea behind this business came out of people asking Sally lots of questions, while she was giving her motivational speeches, about how they could improve their health and fitness and ‘be their best’. Now both she and Jonathan have built up a team of experts ready to tailor specific programmes for individuals within different companies. For more on Sally’s work and lifestyle businesses, go to

Picture credit: David Parry / PA Images

This article was first published in at home with Sally Gunnell in August 2012. [Read the digital edition here]

Read Now

Varicose veins: Symptoms, causes & treatments

They’re unsightly, ache and tire you out: vein problems in your legs – specifically varicose...

A guide to physiotherapy

Each year, one in three people will suffer with back pain. In most cases, you can manage this with...

Win a Forthglade Feast and Cornishware Goodies Enter now

WIN a year’s supply of the T-Zone Charcoal and Bamboo Nose Pore Strips Enter now