Olympic athlete and missionary in China
Eric Liddell, known as the "Flying Scotsman," is best known for refusing to run for the 1924 Olympics in Paris on Sunday. A dedicated Christian, Liddell pulled back from his strongest event, the 100 meters – a decision that years later would make it the subject of Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire. As an alternative, Liddell registered for the 400 meters instead. Just before the race, an American gave him a piece of paper with the words from 1 Samuel 2:30 that said, "Those who honor me, I will honor." Liddell ran the race with the verse in hand and took Olympic gold and a new world record with a time of 47.6 seconds. When Eric described his racing plan, he said:
“The secret of my success on the 400 meters is that I run the first 200 meters as fast as possible. Then with God's help I run the second 200 meters faster. "
Liddell's parents were Scottish missionaries who were working in northeast China at the time Eric was born in 1902. For twelve years Liddell attended Eltham College, a Christian boarding school in London. He later studied at the University of Edinburgh, where he excelled in athletics, particularly short distance running, rugby and cricket. In 1922 and 1923 he played for the Scottish Rugby Union in the Five Nations. However, it was his running that set him apart as an athlete, and after setting a British record for the 100-yard sprint in 1923, hopes of Eric's strong performance at the 1924 Olympics were high – and he did not disappoint.
After bringing Scotland to Olympic glory, Liddell left sporting success behind and returned to China, where he taught chemistry and organized sports at a boys' school in Tientsin (now Tianjin). He married in 1934 and later began working as a village evangelist. He toured the country in Siao Chang, a dangerous region that was unsuitable for his wife and two daughters who stayed behind. Eric was often threatened by hostile communists and Chinese nationalists, both of whom regularly brought villages into trouble and disapproved of the work of Christian missionaries.
In 1941, the Japanese invaded China and Eric's family joined his wife's parents in Canada while he stayed behind. As a result, the situation in China worsened and Liddell was sent to a detention center in Shantung Province by the Japanese. Eric and 1,800 others, including many children, were put in a prison camp that was only 150 by 200 meters. Inside, Liddell organized sporting events, taught the children, and continued evangelistic work by conducting Bible studies. It was in this detention center that Liddell wrote about observing God's calling for one's life.
Just months before he was liberated, Liddell died on February 21, 1945 in the internment camp of a large tumor on the left side of his brain – a condition he did not know he had. He had spent his life obeying God's will and teaching others to live in accordance with God's word. Liddell died in the service of the Lord. Now, nearly eight decades after his death, his legacy of faith lives on in books like John W. Keddie's Running the Race: Eric Liddell – Olympic Champion and Missionary.