Scottish Olympic moments: Eric Liddell, 1924
ERIC Liddell’s triumph is a story of conviction, adversity, faith and friendship. Known as the Flying Scotsman, Liddell took gold in the 400 metres and bronze in the 200 metres at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
Liddell was born in China to Scottish parents, who worked as Christian missionaries. This faith formed an important part of Liddell’s life, and he himself became a missionary in China after his retirement from athletics.
His amazing story was immortalised in the Oscar-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire, which focused on his friendship with team-mate Harold Abrahams and how their different faiths (Abrahams was an English Jew) inspired their performance.
Liddell’s devotion to God put barriers up during his athletic career but ultimately he said it was his faith that saw him through when he faced down his biggest moments on the track.
In the run-up to the Games, Liddell was in the squad to run the 100 metres, the 4×100 and 4×400. However, because the heats for these events were to take place on a Sunday, Liddell’s Christianity took priority and he refused to run on the Sabbath.
In his hour of need, his team-mate gave up his own spot in the 400 metres so that Liddell could go for gold.
History shows that Liddell was a spectacular athlete. He was also a good cricketer, and even appeared in seven Rugby Union tests for Scotland at the five nations in 1922 and 1923.
And it was this all-round ability that gave Liddell his greatest victory when, against the odds, he took the gold in the 400 metres - a race he wasn’t fancied to win due to his specialism in the shorter 100 metres.
Abrahams made it a double for Britain by taking the gold in the 100 metres.
Liddell returned to China in 1925. During the years of Japan occupation, Liddell and other westerners’ freedom was restricted. He and a few thousand others were interned at a camp in Weihsien. Liddell made the best of it though, by establishing a school and taking charge of the kids’ sporting activities.
Winston Churchill had organised for Liddell to be extracted from China and brought to freedom in Britain. Liddell, true to form, sent a pregnant women in his stead and stayed with his people.
Celebrated as the first Chinese-born Olympic champion, Liddell’s spirit and achievements in his life show the heart of a true Olympian.
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