The Russian will again be hard to beat, but there are few clues as to how. 'The question that we're asking at the moment is 'Where is the lady again?',' says Gunnell's coach, Bruce Longden. 'She's done it again. For the third year running she's been picked and she's not doing anything.'
The eye-catching opposition to Gunnell is Sandra Farmer-Patrick, who sports sculpted coiffures and spangled tutus. She won the US trial by a wide margin, in a world-leading 53.62 sec, coming strongly off the last hurdle. That had been the point at which she lost the world championship to Ledovskaya and Gunnell last summer, her poor hurdling technique throwing her off balance for the run-in.
Farmer-Patrick's recent strong finishes are not an unequivocal improvement, according to Longden. 'If you run slowly to hurdle eight you can do that,' he says. 'She is touching down in 24 seconds at hurdle five, whereas she did go through in 23.2.'
Gunnell's times are no different either, but Longden is 'quietly happy'. Referring to a narrow defeat of Gunnell by Farmer-Patrick, he said: 'Sally turned the burners on until hurdle eight, and then we didn't show everything else after that. Why should we? Winning at the right time is what really matters.'
Gunnell is a superior hurdler to all her rivals, who rely more on their speed and endurance. She came to the event in 1988, finishing fifth in the Olympic final, after a career at 100 metre hurdles. It was her limited basic speed that prompted the move, but she brought with her the greater technical perfection demanded by the shorter event.
Longden's confidence in Gunnell is based on her technical consistency, and the permutations that this allows in her stride pattern between hurdles. She aims to take 15 up to the seventh hurdle, 16 to the ninth, and 17 to the tenth. 'You can't get 16 and a half strides in,' said Longden. 'You have to adjust. You have to make a decision. The opposition isn't any part of that permutation.'
Gunnell concentrates primarily on what is coming up in her own lane rather than those around her. 'There will be eight people on the starting line, and she will treat everyone with respect,' says Longden.
Holding form under pressure is the most important thing, as Farmer-Patrick found last year. If anyone can be relied upon to do that, it is Sally Gunnell.
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