Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

SPORTS & STYLE

Running for God

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Eric Liddell at the 1924 Paris Olympics

Eric Liddell, the British runner and Christian whose story was told in Chariots of Fire, declined to enter his 100 metre race in the 1924 Olympics in Paris because the heats were being run on Sunday, and his religious beliefs meant he would never run on Sunday. Instead he ran a race for which he had never trained.

First he ran the 200, winning a bronze. Then, to everyone's amazement he entered the 400 metre race and "ran them off their feet", winning the gold in 47.6, and setting a world record. The scene from the movie is here -

After his triumph, Eric Liddell returned to China, where he was born, to serve as a missionary and teacher. He lived in China with his wife and daughters until the Japanese invasion, where the true mettle of the man once again became visible. He sent his family to safety, but refused to abandon the Chinese people.

Brendan Gallagher writes, "In 1938 he heard of a wounded Chinese soldier lying helpless in a temple, 20 miles from the mission hospital. He cycled for 20 miles over rough terrain to get there and then found another injured soldier, who had survived Japanese execution. He manufactured a makeshift cart to help push both men to hospital".

In the Far East, Li Airui, as Liddell was known, was considered a God-inspired and heroic man. He is still greatly loved by the Chinese for his heroism and compassion during the Japanese invasion.

John Keddie's acclaimed Running the Race, a biography that places Liddell's sporting life in the religious context in which it was lived, has been published in Mandarin.

Liddell was interned in a Japanese camp, where he became the leader of the desperate men, women and children incarcerated there. When a prisoner exchange was made, he again refused to leave, sending a pregnant woman in his place.

A fellow internee, Stephen Metcalfe, later wrote of Liddell: He gave me two things. One was his worn out running shoes, but the best thing he gave me was his baton of forgiveness. He taught me to love my enemies, the Japanese, and to pray for them.

It is impossible to predict the influence of a man or woman. Liddell's inspiring example of courage and love continues to grow. It is estimated that there are between 50 million and 100 million Chinese Christians in China who have heard his story by word of mouth.

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass