This is a superb biography of Eric Liddell, the famed Christian and Olympian who was featured in the 1980 movie “Chariots of Fire,” which won an Oscar for best picture. The biographer did a superb job, including extensive research on Liddell in China, Britain and Canada, where his family moved after he was martyred in 1945.
Liddell was born in China of missionary parents from Scotland. He went to boarding school in Britain and later attended Edinburgh University.
He was a superb athlete and began winning races all over England. He was named to the British Olympic Team for the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. However, the preliminaries of his main event, the 100 meters, were held on a Sunday. It was his strong conviction that Christians should not compete in sports on Sunday.
Unlike the movie, which is mostly but not completely accurate, Liddell knew months in advance of this conflict. British officials tried long and hard to dissuade him from his convictions about racing on Sunday. He was also widely criticized in the press. But it was to no avail. Though Liddell was a gentle and humble man in many ways, he was also a man of iron convictions and he would not budge about racing on Sunday.
Liddell did compete at the Paris Olympic games, but he competed in the 400 meters, which did not have the Sunday conflict. There were four rounds in the 400. In the first round, a runner from Switzerland set a world record. In the next round an American runner broke that record. There was no record in the third round, but in the final round, Liddell, who was not a favorite to win or even place in this event, won with a stirring upset of these two record holders.
Though he had previously been widely criticized for his refusal to run on Sunday, after winning a gold medal in the 400 he was widely acclaimed for his convictions. He became the British hero of the 1924 Olympics, who could win a gold medal even when it wasn’t his main event.
After the Olympic Games Liddell spoke widely for the gospel. He turned down lucrative opportunities to make money through speaking fees, writing fees, and endorsements. He was not interested in fame or money. Rather he was resolute in going to China as a missionary. As he put it, “God made me for China.” He would stay another year at Edinburgh, finishing his work, before making the journey to China, where he would live the rest of his life except for a furlough.