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Record-breaker put faith first

Christians who made a difference by Rosemary Dawson: Eric Liddell (1902-45)

The British press could not understand why he placed God above winning a medal

 A MISSIONARY zeal and an intense talent for sport shaped the destiny of Eric Liddell, whose memorable athletic achievements are portrayed in the 1982 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.

He was born in China to British mis­sionary parents, but in 1920 he went to Edinburgh University, where athletics and rugby played a large part in his life. Between 1921 and 1923 he won seven international caps and several Scottish athletic titles.

With insufficient time for both sports, he chose running but also remained committed to his faith.

Selected for the British team at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, Eric faced a dilemma when the 100m heats took place on a Sunday. What should he put first: worshipping God or running a race? He chose God.

That decision brought him negative pub­licity. The British press could not understand why he placed God above winning a medal for the King.

Undeterred, Eric ran in the 400m, an un-familiar distance and not his forte. Despite strong competition, he won gold by a margin of some six metres and set a new world record.

After his graduation, Eric again put God first by rejecting sporting fame and fortune and going to north China as a missionary.

It was a dangerous place to be. After the Japanese invasion of the country Eric contin­ued to preach and minister to his community, refusing to leave despite British government advice in 1941.

Eventually interned with other foreign nationals, he held services and organised sports to encourage morale. He died from a brain tumour in February 1945, a few months before his prisoner of war camp was liberated. His grave was marked by a simple wooden cross bearing his name written in boot polish.

Eric Liddell refused to compromise his faith or neglect his Christian standards. He chose to follow the teaching of Jesus: ‘Put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then … other things will be yours as well’ (Matthew 6:33 Contemporary English Version). God honoured Eric’s decision, just as he will honour any decision based on his standards

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