Eric Liddell was one of the fastest men on earth in 1924. He was portrayed by the actor Ian Charleson in the award winning film ‘Chariots of Fire,’ released in 1981 and directed by David Puttnam. Liddell was a devout Scottish Christian. He was actually born in China in Tientsin on 16th January 1902. His parents Reverend and Mrs James Dunlop Liddell were Christian Missionaries serving with the London Mission Society, now known as the Council for World Mission.
On his return from China, Eric Liddell attended boarding school at Eltham College in South East London and then went on to follow a degree course at the University of Edinburgh where he took up athletics. Eric Liddell was known as the fastest runner in Scotland when he was at the university. He was also an accomplished rugby player, gaining a place in the Scottish national rugby team, scoring four tries for Scotland.
Eric Liddell was chosen to run for the Great Britain team in the 1924 Olympics held in Paris, France. The 100 metres was his best event – he had won the 100 with a British record of 9.7 seconds in the AAA Championships in Athletics in Great Britain. The scheduling of the 100 metres at the 1924 Olympics caused a problem for Liddell. He was a devout Christian and he did not want to run on the Sunday – the ‘Lord’s Day, ‘ the Christian Sabbath. Liddell pulled out of the 100 metres race – his arch rival, Harold Abrahams won the gold medal in 1924. Years later, the Scottish Athlete, Alan Well won the 100 metres race in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Alan Wells dedicated his victory to Eric Liddell who did not run in his race in 1924.
Liddell won a Bronze Medal in the 200 metres in the 1924 Olympics and had a stunning victory in the 400 metres race, clinching a Gold Medal with a new Olympic Record of 47.6 seconds. He famously said: When I run, I feel His pleasure.’
Eric Liddell gave it all up, became a Christian Missionary in China and served there from 1925 – 1943. He taught at an Anglo-Chinese College and he tried to promote Christian values. He was a deeply compassionate man – a compassionate leader in China. The Japanese forces invaded China in 1941 and took over the mission station and interred him in 1943 in the Weihsien Internment Camp. He urged everyone in the camp to love their enemies and showed tremendous compassion on others and taught children in the Sunday School, they called him ‘Uncle Eric.’
The Protestant ecumenical theologian, Langdon Gilkey, who hailed from the United States, was also interred in the same camp with Eric Liddell. He wrote: “Often in an evening I would see him bent over a chessboard or a model boat, or directing some sort of square dance – absorbed, weary and interested, pouring all of himself into this effort to capture the imagination of these penned-up youths. He was overflowing with good humour and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.” Liddell died on the 21st of February 1945, he had suffered a brain tumour. He died just 5 months before the liberation of the camp. They say Eric Liddell’s last words were:’It’s complete surrender,’ he had given his whole life to God.
The Story of Eric Liddell:
If you ever you are in Edinburgh, in Scotland, you could visit the Eric Liddell Centre 15 Morningside Road, Edinburgh, EH10 4DP, United Kingdom. Tel: 0131 447 4520. Fax: 0131 446 3348. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Films on Eric Liddell courtesy of You Tube.
Photographs of Eric Liddell courtesy of Wikipdeia ,the Chariots of Fire Film and the Eric Liddell Centre.