The 31-year-old British team captain scratched from yesterday's second round of the 400 metres hurdles because of a calf strain she had picked up in her opening heat. The decision was made after the failure of intensive physiotherapy to get the leg to a point where she could rely on it.
"I don't know whether this is the end," she said. "I want to make a decision at the end of the season. But the last thing I wanted was to pull up injured here. I'm not going to go home. I aim to get some more treatment and maybe do some races at the end of the season."
Gunnell, who was unable to defend her title at the last World Championships because of an Achilles tendon injury, has a traumatic memory of the Olympics, when she was carried in tears from the track after failing to complete her semi-final. She prefers to leave the global championship scene with dignity.
The announcement of her withdrawal from last night's semi-finals caused a murmur of disappointment around the stadium. The woman who has held Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth titles still commands a place of respect in the world of athletics.
There was happier news for Britain's sole defending champion, Jonathan Edwards. Having come to Athens with doubts over his fitness - a heel injury has prevented him competing for five weeks - he qualified for tomorrow's triple jump final with his first attempt - 17.28m. A safe landing after what he described as "a step in the dark".
"I feel good," he said. "Everything is OK". Tomorrow will show whether he is right.
Dalton Grant carried Britain's hopes in the high jump final following the failure of the injured Olympic bronze medallist, Steve Smith, to qualify. He did so with characteristic courage, not to mention eccentricity. Grant, whose arrival at the championships was delayed because of food poisoning, rationed his effort with a gambler's skill.
He set a world record of sorts in the final as he passed every height before clearing at 2.32m - higher than anyone else has managed at a first attempt. Indeed, that unofficial record stood to himself following his clearance of 2.31m at the 1991 World Championships, where he was carrying a foot injury.
On that occasion Grant finished fourth on countback. This time he could not get as close, failing to clear his next height of 2.35m to end up fourth again - a position he shared with Norway's European champion, Steinar Hoen.
The gold went to Cuba's Javier Sotomayor, free of the injuries which compromised his challenges at the last World Championships and last summer's Olympics, who cleared 2.37m.
The 110m hurdles semi-finals were a mixed experience for Britain. Tony Jarrett, the British champion, failed to qualify after making a poor start and hitting his first hurdle. But Colin Jackson, who has won only one race all season, continues to show the kind of form he has not exhibited since 1994, when he added the Commonwealth and European titles to his world gold.
Jackson beat the defending champion, Allen Johnson of the United States, to reach today's final as fastest qualifier in 13.24sec. It would be something indeed as the last surviving competitor of Britain's world champion trio of 1993 were he to win another medal after three years in the wilderness. But it looks as though that is what is going to happen.Reuse content