A GOLD-medal winning athlete who died while sunbathing may have had a heart problem, an inquest heard.

Southampton-born runner Donna Hartley-Wass - fondly remembered as the Golden Girl of athletics during the 1970s and 80s - was found collapsed in her back garden.

Experts at the 58-year-old's Sheffield inquest were unable to determine an exact cause of death.

But they revealed the former 400-metre runner, who also competed under her maiden name Murray, had been taking medication high blood pressure and an abnormal heart rhythm.

The inquest heard how Donna had been to work as a fitness instructor on the day she died on June last year, before returning to her home near Barnsley, South Yorkshire, to enjoy a glass of wine.

Her husband Bobby Knutt later discovered lying on the sun lounger with her face turned purple.

He immediately called an ambulance but paramedics could not resuscitate her, the inquest was told.

Pathologist Dr Charles Wilson said that as an athlete her heart would have done “an awful lot more work” than normal but he could not determine the cause of death.

He added: “We have a previously healthy lady who has died suddenly.”

Assistant coroner Louise Slater recorded a death from natural causes and said: “Science cannot prove what happened at that time.”

“These are very unusual circumstances.”

Donna, a 400 metre runner scooped two golds at the 1978 Commonwealth Games.

During her impressive athletic career Donna clinched double gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, in the individual 400m and 4x400m relay.

She also won a bronze at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow for the 4x400m relay.

She was made an MBE by the Queen in 1979.

She married fellow athlete Bill Hartley but they divorced in the early 1980s.

Later she became a body builder and was crowned the sport's Miss Great Britain.

She wed Bobby, whose real surname is Wass, at Butlins, in 1987 and they wed three years later.

During her athletics career she was coached by Southampton-based Mike Smith, who went on to guide stars such as Roger Black and Iwan Thomas.