Eric Liddell is most widely known for his refusal to run on Sunday in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. A committed Christian, Liddell withdrew from his strongest event, the 100 meters – a decision that would years later make him the subject of the Oscar-winning film "Chariots of Fire." As an alternative, Liddell registered to run in the 400 meters. Just moments before the race, an American handed him a piece of paper on which was written a passage from 1 Samuel 2:30, "Those who honour me I will honour." Liddell ran the race with the verse in his hand and claimed Olympic Gold and new world record with a time of 47.6 seconds. When Eric described his race plan, he said,
"The secret of my success over the 400 meters is that I run the first 200 meters as fast as I can. Then, for the second 200 meters, with God's help, I run faster."
Born in January of 1902, Eric Liddell's parents were Scottish missionaries working in northeastern China at the time of Eric's birth. For twelve years, Liddell attended Eltham College, a Christian boarding school, and then studied at Edinburgh University where he excelled in athletics, particularly short distance running, rugby, and cricket. In 1922 and 1923, Eric played for Scotland Rugby Union in the Five Nations. But it was his running that distinguished him as an athlete and after setting a British record for the 100-yard sprint in 1923, hopes were high for Eric’s strong showing in the 1924 Olympic Games.
Eric did not disappoint. After bringing Olympic glory to Scotland, however, Eric Liddell left success behind and returned to China where he taught Chemistry and organized sports at an all-boy school in Tientsin (now Tianjin). He married in 1934 and later began working as a village evangelist, travelling the countryside in Siao Chang, a dangerous region not suitable for his wife and two daughters who remained behind. Eric was frequently at risk from both hostile Communists and Chinese Nationalists who regularly pillaged and destroyed villages, neither group sympathetic to the work of a Christian missionary.
In 1940, the Japanese invaded China, and Eric's family joined his wife's parents in Canada. Subsequently, the situation in China deteriorated and Liddell was sent by the Japanese to an Internment Camp in Weihsien, in the province of Shantung, North China. Eric and 1,800 others, including many children, were crammed into a detainee camp measuring only 150 by 200 yards. Inside, Liddell organized sporting events, taught the children their studies and continued his evangelistic work, teaching Christianity and Bible study. It was in this Internment Camp where Eric Liddell documented his calling to obedience. Forty years later, the notes from these writings were obtained from his widow, Florence Liddell Hall, and compiled into the book, "The Disciplines of the Christian Life."
Just months before liberation, Eric Liddell died within the confines of the Internment Camp on February 21, 1945 from a large tumor on the left side of his brain – a condition he did not know he had. Eric dedicated his life to obedience to God's will and teaching others to live in accordance with the example Jesus established for his followers. Eric Liddell died serving the Lord. He never saw his third child, Maureen.
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