Running the Race
Eric Liddell, Olympic Champion and Missionary
The enduring fascination of the life of Eric Liddell is remarkable. It is remarkable because he was in many respects an ordinary soul. It is remarkable no doubt also because the lifestyle and faith that he espoused cannot be said to be popular or even well-understood in our skeptical and secular age. Most people would blink in genuine amazement at a man who sought seriously to live by the Bible and devote himself to the spread of its message. It seems outdated to so many; a curio; a vestige of a past age; a ‘distant enchantment’ – or perhaps nostalgia? – for an era irretrievably lost. And yet there is the fascination concerning someone who seemed so guileless yet so assured.
There are many biographies of sportsmen today. They seem to appear every week as sports practitioners achieve celebrity status at an increasingly young age and are grist to the mill of a media-driven lust for the sensational. There are also many Christian biographies. There are very few which bring together the sporting and the Christian. But that is the case with Eric Liddell. And that, at least in part, must account for the fascination. Another factor is this: that he achieved, posthumously, a celebrity status through being depicted in an award-winning movie Chariots of Fire (1981).
From the Author, in summary:
Of all Scottish sportsmen who ever lived the name of Eric Liddell (1902-1945) is one of the best known. When names were solicited of sportsmen and women to be inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, the name of Eric Liddell was the most prominent. But Eric Liddell’s continuing popularity in his native land – as well as in China, the place of his birth and death – is most remarkable. After all, he passed away in 1945 and people rather easily forget the stars of the past. What can we say of Eric Liddell’s continuing popularity?
1. THE FASCINATION HE INSPIRED
Eric Liddell was a celebrity in his own day in view of his surprising Olympic triumph at Paris in 1924. For Scots this has been a rare accomplishment. There have only been three Scottish Olympic champions in individual track events in the 116 years of the Games. In Liddell’s case this popularity has been enhanced by the award winning film Chariots of Fire (1981).The continuing fascination, however, also relates to his sticking to his Christian principles in foregoing Sunday sport and in what he did afterwards in going as a missionary to China.
2. THE CHARACTER HE SHOWED
He was a man who stood for something. He believed in God; and lived for Jesus Christ. Liddell lived by the Bible; he was a man of prayer. These things seem strange to our secular age, yet they also attract, for we are in a day looking for virtue, for good standards, and for hope. Eric is a man of unsullied reputation. He was serious; but he was also full of the joy of life. He looked for heaven, but he loved life. What he showed in his running – seriousness and joyfulness – he also showed in his Christian living. He gives evangelical Christianity a good name.
3. THE LEGACY HE LEFT
First of all, he left a legacy as an exemplary athlete. In an age in which there is such an intensity in international sport – and not a little suspicion of scandal and willingness to win at all costs – Eric Liddell can be held up as a model of honest endeavour. Sport was not his chief end, yet he always gave his all. His Olympic victory was a triumph of honest endeavour, but it didn’t turn his head. He is a wonderful role model for any generation. Another aspect of his legacy is a religious one:He was devoted to the Biblical faith. He is a great example of living, purposeful faith in God.
We continue to remember Eric Liddell, sporting hero and missionary. Running the Race has been a labour of love about one whose life and example has touched many lives over the years. Running the Race seeks to weave together in a seamless tapestry Eric’s sporting achievements and Christian work. It is for the greater part a sporting biography, but a sporting biography involving what we might call ‘muscular’ Christianity. May it be an inspiration and blessing to all who read it.
John W Keddie
Author, Running the Race
About the Author
John Keddie long had a close interest in Eric Liddell, both as an athlete and a Christian/Missionary, which was influential in his becoming a Christian in 1965. He assisted the writer of screenplay (Colin Welland) for Chariots of Fire in depicting the character of Eric Liddell. A character named ‘Col. John Keddie’ was included in film as a way of saying “thank you.”