Heroes of the Faith: Eric Liddell

Athlete and missionary Eric Liddell had been largely forgotten until the 1981 film Chariots of Fire reminded the world of him.

Listen to Podcast Episode

Liddell was born in China to Scottish missionaries in 1902. At the age of five, he was sent to a London boarding school while his parents continued in China. For twelve years they had only brief times of family reunion.

Liddell grew up surrounded by Christianity and acquired a firm faith at a young age. He studied science at Edinburgh University where, despite a reserved and shy personality, he became involved in evangelistic preaching with the Christian Union.

That Liddell had outstanding sporting ability was something that had been identified at school, and at university he played for Scotland’s national rugby team. In 1923 he shifted his focus to athletics where he was soon recognised as the fastest runner in Scotland. Liddell was selected for the British team for the 1924 Olympics in Paris with the expectation that he would run in several races, including the 100 metres where he was tipped to be the likely winner. However, holding beliefs on sport on the Lord’s Day, he refused to take part in the heats that would be held on a Sunday. His action brought him under enormous pressure from both the British Olympics management and the popular press to compromise his faith. He refused to yield.

In the 200m Liddell won a bronze medal. He prepared for the 400m, a distance over which he was not expected to do well. On the morning of the race, he was handed a paper which read, ‘In the old book it says, “He that honours me, I will honour.”’ Recognising th