Monday, February 22, 2016

For All the Saints: Eric Liddell

A beloved Scottish athlete, Eric Henry Liddell (1902-1945) is honored today. I had forgotten that he was the subject of the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, with its stirring Vangelis music. At the University of Edinburgh Liddell ran and played rugby, and was notable in both---for instance, winning a long-equalled record in the 100 yards at the 1923 AAA Championships. In the 1924 Summer Olympics (in which he refused to participate on Sunday because of his religious beliefs),  he won a gold medal for the 400 meters (setting a record) and a bronze medal for the 200 meters.

Born in Northern China to missionary parents, Liddell returned there following the Olympics and did missionary work, for instance as a college teacher. He continued to compete and used his athletics to train boys in sports. He remained in China during the war, sending his family to stay with family in Canada, and he was eventually interned in a Japanese camp. As the Wikipedia site puts it, "Liddell became a leader and organiser at the camp, but food, medicine and other supplies were scarce. There were many cliques in the camp and when some rich businessmen managed to smuggle in some eggs, Liddell shamed them into sharing them. While fellow missionaries formed cliques, moralised and acted selfishly, Liddell busied himself by helping the elderly, teaching at the camp school Bible classes, arranging games and by teaching science to the children, who referred to him as Uncle Eric." He died of a brain tumor in February 1945, likely hastened by the distress of his internment.

The Eric Liddell Centre's website provides much information about his life and service.

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