Olympic hero Sally Gunnell backs Perri Shakes-Drayton for glory

British athletics legend Sally Gunnell has urged 400m hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton to take her time in her bid to star on the international athletics scene

British athletics legend Sally Gunnell has urged 400m hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton to take her time in her bid to star on the international athletics scene.

The 21-year-old 400m hurdler had a year to savour in 2009 not only claiming European under-23 gold, but also reaching the semi-finals on her World Championship debut in Berlin.

Shakes-Drayton, who runs for Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets AC, built on that by earning selection for March's World Indoor Championships as part of the 4x400m relay team.

The hurdler helped Great Britain to fifth in Doha and has since begun preparing for the outdoor season by competing over 200m, 600m and 800m close to her Lee Valley base.

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And while Gunnell has no doubt Shakes-Drayton has the raw ability to one match her own 400m hurdles gold success from Barcelona in 1992, she is adamant the 2007 European Junior silver medallist continues to learn her trade this year.

"I think Perri is a great talent because she is still very young but the important thing for her now is that she keeps improving," said Gunnell - who was speaking at the launch of the Aviva Elevating Athletics initiative.

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"She has got a massive amount of natural ability and a great coach in Christopher Zah so she is in good shape to do well.

"But while there here and now is important she shouldn't be putting too much pressure on herself and she needs to be getting as much experience as she can by going to as many major championships as possible.

"It's important that she doesn't stand still because while she has probably got another Olympics after London, 2012 is a great opportunity for her."

If 2009 was big for Shakes-Drayton, 2010 threatens to be even bigger with July's European Championships and October's Commonwealth Games both potentially on the agenda.

And Gunnell - a holder of three Commonwealth and one European title - insists Shakes-Drayton must settle for a place in the final of either and nothing else.

"On top of everything it is really important that Perri is not only going to these big events but she is going there and making the finals," added Gunnell.

"She has the experience of Berlin last summer and that will really help her out but she needs to make sure at her next major championships she is improving and getting into finals and taking the opportunity."

Sally Gunnell is launching the Aviva Elevating Athletics Fund, providing the opportunity of free training and support to every single teacher in the United Kingdom.

Aviva are also offering schools the chance to win �10,000 for sports facilities.

To enter please visit www.aviva.co.uk/athletics.

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