Eric Liddell and The Olympics
A man of sport. A man of faith. An Olympian.
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Eric Liddell in Paris Olympic Games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Chariots of Fire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chariots_of_fire.jpg
’He that honors me, I will honor.’ 1 Samuel 2:30
During the Opening Ceremony in London 2012, was a skit with the comedian Rowan Atkinson and the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing the theme from the 1980s film Chariots of Fire. The skit was to me the highlight of the event.
The theme is rousing. A few notes causes memories of the film to resurface – the runners on the windy beach of St. Andrews – runners on the British team in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France. Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams and the late Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell. The film is about the two men – one determined to win at all costs – one determined to win at no cost.
Eric Liddell was a Scot with feet like the wind. He was also a missionary who died in occupied China, the land where he was born just before the end of World War 2.
Growing up in Scotland, he attended Edinburgh University where he ran and he also played rugby for the national Scottish team. That was one side to his life. His main calling was to be an evangelist and teacher like his parents.
The 1920s saw Liddell becoming one of the top runners in Britain. He won the Scottish 100, 220 and 440 metre sprinting tiles. He also won the sprints at the Triangular International Contests in 1921, 1922 and 1923. He became known as the “Flying Scotsman”.
He was part of the 1924 British team and was expected to win the 100 metre race, his main event, his strongest event. However, the heats for the race took place on a Sunday. Sunday was the Sabbath and to him, it was not a day for sport but for faith and reflection. He had refused to run, instead preaching in the Scots Church in Paris, and told the Olympic Committee this months before the Games. Harold Abrahams won the heats and in the final became the “world’s fastest man”; Liddell was criticised for putting God above King and Country. Arrangements were made for Liddell to run the 400 metres, a race he was unlikely to win, being a sprinter. He was competing against the American Jackson Schulz, who had beaten Liddell in the 200 metres, Liddell taking bronze. Before the 400 metres final his team is said to have given him a note that read: “It says in the good Book, ‘He that honours me, I will honor.’ Good luck.” Liddell shook the hands of all his competitors before the starting pistol fired. He won gold, being ahead of the field by 6 metres. He set a world record of 47.6 seconds. He was honoured and to his mind, God was honoured.
He said, “The secret of my success over the 400m is that I run the first 200m as fast as I can. Then, for the second 200m, with God’s help I run faster.”
Loved by Scots and Chinese, some of whom consider him the first Chinese Olympian, memorial to him exist in Edinburgh and the former Weihsien Internment Camp, where he died. The camp is now a school.
He may have been an athlete but sport was not the “be all and end all” for his life. He aim was not glory, self-aggrandisement, money or fame. He ran because it was how he was made, knowing all along that it would pass and what he was meant to do was to come.
See also: http://ericliddell.org/ericliddell/home
Eric Liddell images:
Liddell in Rugby: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Liddell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The plaque is on a University building in George Square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Photograph of a monument to Eric Liddell on the grounds of the former Weihsien Internment Camp, Weifang, Shandong, China. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Photograph of a memorial headstone, made from Isle of Mull granite, dedicated to Eric Liddell on the site of the former Weihsien Internment Camp in Weifang, Shandong, China. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Chariots of Fire images:
Ian Charleson (foreground) and Ben Cross (left): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charleson_on_beach.jpg
The St. Andrews scene: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chariots_of_Fire_beach.jpg
Ian Charleson as Liddell: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ian_Charleson_carried_in_Chariots_of_Fire.jpg