As she crossed the line, she glanced down to her left at the digital clock, which registered 53.33 seconds - the fourth fastest she has run. It was only then, with Europe's finest labouring to the line, that a smile lit her face and she raised both fists into the air as if to register the wider achievement.
Around her, exhausted competitors slumped to the track. Gunnell attempted to shake hands with the prostrate Silvia Rieger, runner-up in a personal best of 54.68sec. But the German was not yet up to socialising, and so the winner trotted over to the British supporters and picked up a Union Jack.
'Sally]', came the shout from the bank of photgraphers coralled beyond the finish line. 'Sally] Hands up]' She raised them higher, still clasping the flag. It becomes easy with practice.
Afterwards came the familar demands of the press, television and radio. Her husband, John Bigg, accreditation in place, stood ready to join her for the kind of joint interviews which had taken place in Stuttgart last year and Barcelona the year before.
'I've done it,' she said. 'That's what it's all about. I really wanted to win those four golds at the same time. I was nervous beforehand. There was a race to be won. Anything can happen out there - you can hit a hurdle and go sprawling.'
In an effort to make sure of the title she needed, she had 'played a little bit safe' by increasing the number of strides she took between the final three hurdles.
'This is something athletes have dreamed about and I have achieved it. Now it's a matter of enjoying it for a few months and then starting all over again.'
When she does that, the 28-year- old farmer's daughter will have a new potential rival in mind. Marie-Jose Perec, the Olympic 400m champion, has been training in Los Angeles with the world 400m hurdles champion, Kevin Young, with a view to taking the new event seriously next season.
'It will not be easy for her to step up,' Gunnell said. 'It took me a couple of years to get the event right. But I'm glad she is. I need that kind of motivation. It will mean a hard winter's work for me.' The track ahead stretches to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but not beyond. 'I'll not be around for another European Championships.'
The 3,000m steeplechase final, in which Italy's Alessandro Lambruschini recovered from a heavy fall after 600 metres to win in 8min 22.40sec, represented a huge disappointment for Britain's Mark Rowland, who finished fourth in 8:26 after being overtaken on the second barrier from home by William van Wijck, of Belgium.
Rowland took the silver medal in the last championships, but since then a series of Achilles tendon injuries almost finished his career. Last night's final was only his eighth steeplechase since Split, including the heat. With his rolling gait, Rowland covered the final break made by Lambruschini - helped up after his fall by a team- mate, Francesco Panetta - and his fellow-Italian, Angelo Carosi. But his lack of background training told in the final 200 metres.
He sat bowed and dejected afterwards. 'This is the third time I've come fourth in a major championships and I don't like it,' he said. 'I suppose I ran as well as I reasonably could but you know me, I do bloody hate getting beaten like that in the end.' It was one of the bravest performances of the championships.
Britain missed a further bronze, in the long jump, by two months. Fiona May, who used to live in Derby, now lives in Florence with her husband Gianni Iapichino, the Italian pole vaulter - and took up her new nationality in June. A last jump of 6.90m secured May third place behind Heike Drechsler, of Germany, who took her third European long jump title in 7.14m.
Craig Winrow qualified safely for tomorrow's 800m final, and Kelly Holmes reached the 1500m final.
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