Born JANUARY 16, 1902
The gun went off. The runners launched forward on the track. Someone tripped Scotland’s favorite sprinter. Eric Liddell lunged onto the grass.
Up to that moment in 1923, the Triangular International Contests (featuring England, Ireland and Scotland) had proved a winning venue for Eric. He served as Scotland’s champion in the 110 -meter and 220-meter races. Then he landed on the ground in the 440 race. Seconds passed. He caught his breath and sprang back onto the track. In nothing short of a miraculous recovery, Eric passed the other runners, breaking the finish line tape. He’d fallen to the ground, gasping for air, but he still won the race.
Eric was born in China to missionaries from Scotland. When he was five, they took Eric and his brother (a year older) back to Scotland to begin their formal education. Both graduated from the school for sons of missionaries, then enrolled in Edinburgh University. It soon became evident that Eric had the heart of a Christian and the body of an athlete. He excelled at two sports– rugby and track. He eventually dropped rugby.
Eric had become a fast runner. Even with his awkward style —chin in the air and arms swinging– he kept winning.
His overall performance that day at the International Contests helped gain him a spot on Great Britain’s Olympic track team for the 1924 Paris Olympics. Expectations were high for him to earn his country a gold medal in the 100-meter race. Eric was ready to win it until he saw the schedule for the qualifying heats. They were on a Sunday. His religious convictions wouldn’t let him compete on Sunday, a day set aside to rest and worship God.
When he made it known, Eric faced an onslaught of ridicule. What about national pride? He was called a traitor. Then, the door opened for him to compete in the 400-meter race instead.
The runners lined up on the track on a very hot July 11th. Earlier that day, the masseur for Great Britain’s track team handed Eric a note. In a reference to I Samuel 2:30, he wrote, “In the old book it says, ‘He that honors me, I will honor.’ ” At the sound of the pistol, Eric sprinted the 400 meters in a record time of 47.6 seconds. The “traitor” became a national hero. God had indeed honored him. (Check the YouTube resources below for the race from the movie Chariots of Fire and the actual 1924 Olympics race.)
A CHAMPION IN A BIGGER STADIUM
A year after winning Olympic gold, Eric returned to China. Like his parents before him, he served as a missionary. He eventually married the daughter of missionaries from Canada. When the Japanese began occupying China, Eric sent his family to Canada for safety. In 1943, Eric and other missionaries who’d remained in China were sent to an internment camp. In the camp, Eric’s Christianity touched other lives in many ways. He taught lessons to the children, lead Bible studies and gave counseling. Most of all, his words, actions and reactions represented Jesus to those around him.
Eric’s health declined. Physical exhaustion worsened his condition. His athletic body grew increasingly weaker. On February 21, 1945, Eric crossed life’s finish line, having run the race, finished the course and kept the faith.
LET ME KNOW: How has Eric’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Magnusson, Sally. The Flying Scotsman. Quartet Books, 1981.
Learn more about Eric Liddell’s life from the following resources, among others————-
- Keddie, John W. Running the Race: Eric Liddell– Olympic Champion and Missionary. Evangelical Press, 2007.
- McCasland, David. Eric Liddell: Pure Gold. Discovery House Publishers, 2004.
- Eric Liddel: Champion of Conviction. Vision Video. January 2008. DVD.
- Chariots of Fire. Directed by Hugh Hudson. 1981. Warner Home Video, February 2005. DVD.
- “He who honors God” youtube video, 4:25. Posted by lediesa on April 10, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwyltmUR3MU.
- “Eric Liddell- Original Footage of his Gold Medal Winning Race.” youtube video, 0:20. Posted by Ericliddellcentre on November 26, 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRdrtp5YAxU