Taking a glance behind him 30 metres from the line, he brandished both fists in front of him and gestured to the crowd before winning at a virtual jog. Steve Ovett used to do this sort of thing over 800 and 1500m; in a one-lap race, it was an astonishing display of confidence.
His time was 44.53sec. Had he not diverted himself - and the crowd of nearly 25,000 people - the 20-year-old from Wigan would certainly have beaten his British record of 44.47, and perhaps the European record of 44.33.
Afterwards he expressed some regret. 'I wish I hadn't eased off,' he said. 'But it won't be long before I get the record. I'll be going flat out for it in Oslo.' That meeting, which takes place on Saturday, will see him in between the top Americans, Butch Reynolds and Michael Johnson.
Johnson, beaten over his world championship distance of 200m in Lille, on Friday, suffered another defeat last night, by Carl Lewis. The meeting's star attraction - he was being paid a record total of dollars 100,000 (pounds 66,000) for promoting the occasion and competing in the 100m and 200m - set the world's fastest time this year, 19.99, at a time of the evening when the wind was turning distinctly chilly.
This performance alters the perception of Lewis as a fading force in US sprinting.
John Regis, who finished sixth in the 100m B race earlier in the evening, could do no better than fourth, in a time of 20.25.
On a night when Britain's other Olympic champion, Linford Christie, preferred to stay home and prepare for Oslo, Gunnell strengthened her position as the leading contender for the 400m hurdles gold medal at this year's World Championships.
As Sandra Farmer-Patrick had established a big early lead, Gunnell stuck to her race plan. The Barcelona silver medallist led into the finishing straight. But by the final hurdle, the gold medallist was past her and away.
Despite her fears that the post-Olympic round of appearances might disrupt her preparations, Gunnell appears to have benefited from the situation. Perhaps it has created an edge of anxiety which has carried over into her racing.
She is running nearly a second faster than she was at this stage last year. The question now is whether she can sustain this form. Sensibly, she plans to take 10 days off before competing at her old event, the 100m hurdles, at the AAA Championships.
Lewis received dollars 40,000 for his promotional efforts. Assuming a pro-rata payment for distance run, he finished the earlier 100m dollars 20,000 to the good. But he was good enough only for second place as Andre Cason showed the starting speed which has brought him the world 60m record and - just as he did in winning the US trials - sustained it, winning in 10.04.
Lewis, down by a metre a third of the way into the race, has, with Christie, the fastest finishing third of any 100m runner in the world. At the line, he was closing fast and no more than a foot behind.
The crowd at the finish, perhaps by instinct after all the years Lewis has been coming here, roared and whooped their appreciation. But when Cason finally arrived after his lap of honour, he stood before them and defied them to do less. The response was as good; it seemed that Cason was making a point.
In the women's 100m, Gail Devers, of the United States, who ran the world's fastest time this year at Lille last Friday, 10.96, improved still further to win in 10.82, equalling the personal best with which she earned the Olympic title last summer.
Georg Anderson, the world championship shot putt silver medallist from Norway, has been barred from all sports for life in his home country for refusing to take a drugs test. He has just completed a two-year international ban for failing a test in 1991.
Results, Sporting Digest, page 39Reuse content