Eric Liddell is legend. The Olympic gold medal winner of 400 m track event in1924, Liddell, nicknamed as the Flying Scotman, has become an icon of conviction and faith. His life is pictured in the Oscar Award winning British film ‘Chariots of Fire.’
Eric was born into a missionary family in 1902. His parents, Mr and Mrs James Dunlop Liddell, lived in China. They preached Jesus to the Chinese. Eric had his primary education at a boarding school for missionary kids. . At the age of six, he and his eight-year-old brother Robert were enrolled in Eltham College, a boarding school in south London for the sons of missionaries. While he was at the school, Eric developed a passion for running and rugby.
An outstanding runner, Liddell soon emerged the fastest runner in Scotland while at Oxford College. His feats were celebrated on media, and sports experts stated that he was a potential Olympic winner. Liddell trained hard for the Olympics which were to be held at Paris in 1924.
He said, “God first!” And ran to a recording breaking finish!
The whole of Scotland expected Liddell to win the race for the nation. He carried the dream of millions on his shoulders. All of a sudden, a problem arose. His favourite event was 100 meters race. But, for the dismay of Liddell and the Scots, the heat of 100 m race was to be held on a Sunday. And Eric, a staunch believer in Christ who considered Sunday a day of rest, decided to withdraw from the race. Every one ridiculed him for losing a golden chance. Eric went through a bitter patch of his life.
Now, the events left for him are 400 metres and 200 metres. He could participate in those events as the heats did not fall on Sundays. But, according to his previous records, he was nowhere near the international records in 400 metres. There was little hope for him to win. He was no one’s favourite. Everyone wrote him off!
Believing in the words of Christ, Eric began rigorous training in 400 metres. Finally, the big day dawned. The final of 400 metre event. The favourites were Americans. Eric was an underdog, with not even his countrymen expecting him to win. As Eric walked into the starting point, an American Olympic Team masseur slipped a piece of paper into his hand with a quotation, “Those who honor me I will honor” (1 Samuel: 2-30). Eric ran with that piece of paper in his hand and held onto this promise tightly. That day, for the whole world to see and wonder, Eric Liddell emerged triumphant finishing his 400 meters lap in Olympic and world record breaking time of 47.6 seconds!
After the Olympics, Eric returned to China and served as a missionary there. He was married and had three children. When China emerged life-threatening for Christians, Eric and family migrated to Canada, and he continued his mission there.