Former “golden girl” of British athletics Donna Hartley has died suddenly while sunbathing in her garden.
Donna Hartley, 58, a former 400 metres runner, was found lying on a sun lounger in a bikini, by her husband on Friday afternoon.
Her shoulder-length blonde hair and prowess on the track earned her the “golden girl” tag during a glittering running career in which she won bronze in the 1980 Olympic Games.
Yesterday her devastated husband Bobby Knutt, an actor and comedian, said a post mortem will be carried out today, but she “might have died of a heart attack”.
Golden girl Donna Hartley had a successful career on the British body building circuit after retiring from athletics.
Bobby Knutt, who met his wife at Butlins, said: “We were married 26 years and we had never had a row or cross word.
“She was the great love of my life. Nobody will ever take her place.
“She was the kindest person in the world. Everybody loved her and nobody had a bad word to say about her. She was an absolute princess.
“I’ve lost my best pal, she hadn’t got a bad thought in her head. I never heard her criticize anybody and she was so good and kind.”
The talented runner originally became well known under her maiden name Donna Murray and her distinctive looks made her an instantly recognizable figure.
Donna Hartley won double gold in the 400m and 4x400m relay at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, and the following year was made an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II.
But the highlight of her career was her bronze medal in the 400m relay at the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980.
Donna married fellow athlete Bill Hartley in 1977, but the relationship ended in divorce. She met TV actor Bobby Knutt in 1984 and they married three years later.
She took her husband’s real surname Wass and moved to live in his native Sheffield.
After retiring from athletics Donna Hartley became a champion body builder and won the “Miss Britain Physique” title.
She later ran a line dancing school in the city and had been working as a hotel leisure club manager when she died.
A self-confessed sun worshipper, Donna Hartley returned home early from work on Friday to soak up the rays in her garden and make the most of the fine June weather.
Bobby Knutt, 67, said they went outside together at about 3 p.m. and he returned inside to watch television about half-an-hour later. When he went back out some time later to speak to his wife she was dead.
“I went out to see her and she had gone. I don’t know what happened, she might have had a heart attack.”
The couple have no children but Bobby Knutt has a daughter from a previous marriage.