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Interview in The Hot Tub … Sally Gunnell OBE

After retiring from international athletics with an Olympic gold medal in tow, Sally Gunnell now works to bring all the benefits of sport to every day life, but admits nothing beats a dip in a thalasso pool or a cup of coffee in the garden … 

Your event was the 400m hurdles - at what age did you first get interested in athletics?

I didn’t start as a hurdler, but I found that I could run fast from a young age.  I loved long jump, and started to get more serious around the age of 12.  I had found something that I was good at, which is what everyone likes to do, running was my thing!  I joined a club and went two or three times a week, and then I was spotted by my coach when I was 14 - I always had the same coach.  That’s when you’ve got to commit, if you want to get better you have to commit.

Did sport come naturally to you?

Yeah, I had a natural ability when it came to sport - I loved netball, rounders - everything.  I was very active and competitive.

Do you think being competitive is an important part of being an athlete?

You have got to have that competitive streak - it’s something you are born with - a desire to be the best you can be.  I was like that and my parents didn’t do anything to discourage it.

You are very clear that the overriding part of your success was due to your determination - what was your motivation to succeed?

Once you leave school all your friends are getting jobs and earning money, and there’s you trying to go down the sports line - there isn’t a lot of money in it, and you rely on parental support, which I was lucky enough to have - it’s taking a gamble, and that makes you want to succeed.

You won various gold medals despite being plagued by injury - how did you cope with that while you were training?

I guess it’s realising that injury is part and parcel of the sport.  I did things to try to prevent them, and if they did happen I had to look at the bigger picture - doing the things to recover and not bringing yourself down - looking to the future.

What’s your advice to people with sports injuries?

To try to prevent them, have massages; make sure you rest; and stretch after exercise.  If I had a niggle I went to see someone straight away - I couldn’t afford to ignore it, but there’s so much you can do to retain fitness while you’re injured, like running in the pool and bike work.

Your work post pro-athletics is still very much devoted to health and you seem to be making it accessible for everyone  - how do you get people to focus on their health?

We do a lot of work with health and wellbeing generally, making people more resilient - it’s what athletics is about - living life to the full, making sure the body doesn’t break down.  We work with individuals and companies to deal with every day life.  People want to be healthy, but it’s hard to fit it in so we look at including different elements - training programmes to do at home or in hotel rooms, whether it’s half an hour or ten minutes.

What do you hope the 2012 Olympics will bring to the UK both now and as a legacy?

Firstly for people to experience what the Olympics is about.  I have been to five and remember being blown away by the buzz the first time around.  The whole build up is exciting as well!  The other area is inspiring people, especially children, to be active - so many people in sport have been inspired by a particular moment.

With all that sport do you get time to relax?

I do actually go for spa days!  I like having massages or facials - if you can get a whole day then brilliant.  I also go for walks, spending time with family and friends - I spend a lot of time sitting by my pond with cups of coffee.

Do you have a favourite spa treatment?

I really like massage - probably because of when I ran - especially aromatherapy massage.  I also like thalasso pools for the massage element!

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