He was the Scottish athlete dubbed ‘The Flying Scotsman’ who stood by his religious principles, refusing to run the 100 metre race because it fell on a Sunday, but who then went on to win a gold medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics for the 400 metres.
But Eric Liddell’s other sporting prowess as an international rugby player who won seven caps for Scotland, winning the first at the same Colombes stadium where he raced to Olympic gold, has been overlooked.
However, tonight one of Liddell’s daughters, Patricia Russell, will accept a unique, re-issued rugby cap from Scottish Rugby in her father’s honour at the Eric Liddell centre’s inaugural Going for Gold fundraising gala and auction in Edinburgh. The centre specialises in care for the elderly and dementia services.
When officials at the Scottish Rugby Union had heard that one of Liddell’s caps had been lost over the decades they decided to replicate a one-off copy and return it to his family. The gift received the blessing of the current Scotland management, led by head coach, Gregor Townsend.
Ms Russell, the eldest of Liddell’s three daughters who travelled from her home in Canada for the ceremony, said: “We were so touched when John MacMillan, (chief executive officer of the Eric Liddell centre) called saying the rugby people were giving this cap. It is an extraordinary honour.”
Speaking about her father ahead of the gala, she revealed how her father, who died in an internment camp in China in 1945 when she was just 10 years old, had tried to instil his principles into his children.
“I remember he was lots of fun, but quite strict with us. We were in a race and I had to run and hand him a handkerchief and then he would run. I didn’t want to hand it over and he said ‘if you’re going to do something you do it well.’
“But we didn’t have many years with him. But we spent the summer of 1940 in Scotland and I’ve always felt like Scotland is my home.”
Liddell, who was born in China to Scottish missionary parents, graduated from Edinburgh University after the Paris Olympics and returned to China as a missionary. In 1943 he was interned in a Japanese internment camp after the invasion of China and died in the camp in 1945.
The Oscar-winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’ (1981) portrayed the drama of Liddell’s Olympic gold medal win.
Ian Rankin, a past president of Scottish Rugby and chairman of its charity, the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation, said: “Eric Liddell is part of our rugby family and his achievements on both rugby field and track were truly inspiring.
“There is huge symbolism around a cap. It means as much today as it did 95 years ago when Eric made his first appearance for Scotland.”
Mr MacMillan said: “Eric was an amazing sportsman. He was an outstanding rugby player, and international athlete, so we are delighted to see his cap return to his family.
“With Patricia’s support we are very keen to get Eric Liddell into the wider psyche. When I speak to schools I tell them he was the 1920s version of Usain Bolt, and that grabs their attention.”
Speakers at the event at the Sheraton Grand are award-winning author Alexander McCall Smith, CBE, and Scottish Rugby’s points-record holder Chris Paterson MBE.s