Gunnell's swipe at BBC as she quits trackside role

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The Independent Online

As one of the most successful sportswomen in British history, Sally Gunnell was deservedly admired by millions of television viewers. But it seems her pursuit of athletes with a microphone has left the nation less enraptured.

The BBC confirmed yesterday that the former 400-metre hurdler, who is the only British athlete to have simultaneously held titles at Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth levels, is ending her role as one of its trackside pundits and interviewers.

The departure of the 39-year-old from live athletics coverage follows growing criticism of an interviewing technique that caused one commentator to voice a desire to "stuff her in a locker and throw away the key".

The athlete, who came second to Ian Wright last week in a poll of the most annoying sports pundits, is the latest retired sports professional to see their career as an on-camera expert come to a premature end. The BBC announced last week it had ended its three-year contract with Peter Schmeichel, the former Denmark and Manchester United goalkeeper, reportedly after executives became exasperated by his long sentences on Match of the Day.

Gunnell, a mother-of-three who attracted the wrath of viewers by confronting out-of-breath athletes with the question "How do you feel?", hit back at critics yesterday and claimed the BBC had not done enough to train her. She told The Mail on Sunday: "For the past two years I've felt undermined. I felt my role was being diminished and I wasn't going anywhere. I'm an athlete but I was thrown into a situation where people criticised what I did. You would have expected the BBC to stick up for me, to give me some training, to look after me and help me. But it was a case of, 'Just get on with it'. Learning on your feet in front of millions is not easy."

The BBC declined to comment on Gunnell's claim she was given just two hour-long training sessions for her role, which tackled what to wear and how to sit when on-screen rather than interview technique. A BBC spokeswoman said: "It has been mutually agreed Sally will no longer carry out trackside interviews. However, she is still working with us on other projects."

Gunnell intends to stay with the BBC until her £60,000-a-year contract runs out at the end of this year.

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