Eric Liddell: Winning the Race

Eric Liddell: Winning the Race

Eric Liddell gained fame as a British Olympic Gold Medalist runner in 1924. Known as the Flying Scotsman, the sprinter is best remembered for refusing to run on Sunday in the 100-meter final that he was favored to win. For Liddell, Sunday was a day of worship and rest, and he would not violate what he held sacred in his heart even if it meant turning down the chance for his country’s only hope for Olympic gold. He drew the ire of fellow Scotsmen and received bad press, and was even called a traitor.

Eric Liddell

He entered the 400-meter race even though he knew it was a longshot since there were two world record holders in the race, and he was placed in the worst lane. His coach slipped him a note that encouraged him. It read, “He who honors Him, He will honor.” He sailed through the race with his head tossed back in his typical fashion to maximize airflow. No one else was near him, and he crossed the finish line, winning gold and setting a new world record. Returning home, he was hailed a hero.

“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,” he reportedly said in a BBC article.

Born in China to missionary parents in 1902, Liddell would cut his running career short and return to China as a missionary. What he found in China was very different than in his early years. Foreigners were not welcome, and times were dangerous as Japan invaded China and wreaking havoc in wartime. But Liddell stayed to preach and help the sick and injured.

Soon, foreigners were forced into internment camps where conditions were poor, disease was rampant, and there was little to eat. Liddell continued to serve the Lord by setting up church services and a children’s school, organizing sports and activities. He continued to care for the sick and became known as Uncle Eric, the most respected person at the camp.

After two years in the camp, Liddell had a stroke and said his last words to a friend before losing consciousness, “It is surrender,” in reference to how he gave his life to God. At age 43, he died of what was later determined to be a large brain tumor. His death came only five months before the end of the war. Camp internees, the whole of Scotland, and the world mourned the loss of Liddell.

It is reported that his grave was marked by a simple wooden cross with his name written in boot polish. Years later, Edinburgh University erected a stone monument on the site. The Eric Liddell Centre was set up at the old North Morningside Church at Edinburgh’s Holy Corner.

His story and religious convictions are immortalized in the four-time Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire. A 2016 follow up film, On Wings of Eagles, portrays Liddell’s time while in the Japanese internment camp. Here is a trailer of the film:

Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out His wonderful plan of love.” – Eric Liddell

==> And read Ravi Zacharias: Defender of the Christian Faith.

==> Also read Francis Scott Key: God and Country.


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