MILLIONS watched as British athletes roared to success in the London 2012 Olympic Games but only few could relate to the sheer elation felt by those successful athletes.
For 400m hurdles champion Sally Gunnell, watching the likes of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah cross the finish line in first place brought back a wealth of emotional memories from her triumph in Barcelona 1992.
Speaking at a Girls’ School Association Girls Go Gold conference at Moira House Girls School in Eastbourne, she said, “I don’t remember much about the final itself.
“I remember walking out into the stadium and looking up, which I probably shouldn’t have done.
“I saw people waving Union Jack flags and thinking ‘they’re here to see me’, but after that I don’t remember anything.
“I don’t remember taking my tracksuit off. I don’t remember going to the blocks. I don’t remember the gun going off.
“You’re so in the zone, you can’t take it all in.
“And even now, when I watch the video of the race, although I don’t remember much of it, it still gives me goosebumps.”
Getting into the correct mind-set for an Olympic final race was something Sally revealed she found difficult and, after squandering glory in a race a year previous to the Olympics, she employed a sports psychologist to help her achieve her dream.
“I should have won that race but I didn’t because when I was out in front, I looked around and saw the other athletes behind me. The second I did that, I lost the lead.
“I got a sports psychologist on board and he told me to visualise myself winning, which is something that I never did before.
“Of my winning race, I’d say 70 per cent was in the mind.
“I remember worrying that I didn’t sleep right last night, but telling myself it didn’t matter because I’d slept right for the past two years.
“You have to force confident thoughts into your head.”
Gunnell started her career as a long-jump athlete before switching to the 100m hurdles and, eventually, the 400m hurdles.
It was here that she excelled, winning Commonwealth, World, European and Olympic titles.
She said, “The most important thing is finding something you’re good at.
“It’s about challenging yourself, getting out of those comfort zones, putting yourself out there and seeing what you can achieve.
“When my coach suggested I switch to 400m instead of 100m, I thought he was mad.
“Why would I want to run all the way around the track? That was more painful!
“I was told I was too nice to be successful in the 400m, I wasn’t aggressive enough, but I thought, ‘who are you to tell me I can’t do it’.
“I believed in my own ability, I had a realistic goal and a dream goal, I knew what I wanted to achieve and that was the key.”