Eric Liddell's Olympic Victory

Dan Graves, MSL

Eric Liddell's Olympic Victory

"I need your help, Eric." Evangelist D. P. Thompson was urgent. "Not many men come out to the meetings. I think they would come if they knew you were going to speak."

Eric did not like to speak in public. He was shy. But he did not say anything to D. P. Thompson of this. He looked at his feet a couple moments then looked up and answered, "yes."

That's how he wound up on the platform, making his appeal to people to turn their lives over to God. He didn't chew them out for doing wrong. Instead, he spoke of God's love and support as he had personally experienced it.

Eric had needed that support. His parents were missionaries in far off China. For much of his life he had had to stay behind in Scotland without them. There he had shown great ability as a scholar and as an athlete. He and his brother Rob were noted rugby players and when Eric began to run and win races, his picture was frequently in the newspapers. People began to speak of him as an Olympic Games contender. He trained hard for the opportunity.

If you've seen the movie Chariots of Fire, you have thrilled at Eric Liddell's stand for principle. It almost cost him his chance at Olympic gold, for the 100 meter was his best race. But he dropped out, rather than run in the qualifying heats on a Sunday.

Instead he preached in a Paris church that day while starting guns popped in the stadium. Nevertheless, Eric captured an unexpected bronze in the 200 meter and worked his way through the qualifying heats for the 400 meter. His trial times were not spectacular. It did not seem he could beat the other fine contenders.

Eric crouched ready to run. It was on this day, July 11, 1924.

Defeat or victory today, he would accept it. He had told the crowds who came to hear him speak that he did not ever question what God brought his way. "I don't need explanations from God. I simply believe him and accept whatever comes my way."

The gun cracked. Eric was out of his crouch and running, head tilted back, arms flailing. If this had been a sprint, he could not have flown faster. When the finish tape drew taut across his chest, he was five meters ahead of his nearest rival. Eric had won the gold in 47.6 seconds, a world record!

For Eric Liddell, however, this was not the ultimate race. His whole life was a race: a race for the kingdom of heaven. He sailed two years later to China as a missionary and was still running his race for God when he died on February 21, 1945 of a brain tumor and typhoid in a Japanese prison camp. (The Japanese had rounded up all foreigners at the beginning of World War II.) By then, everyone in the camp had come to know his courage, his love and his smile as he tried to make conditions in the camp the best they could be.


  1. Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
  2. Brooke, Tal. “Running to Win” an SCP Report.
  3. Chariots of Fire. [Videorecording] Warner Home Video, 1981.
  4. “China.” Encyclopedia Americana. Chicago: Americana Corp., 1956.
  5. Henry, Bill. An Approved History of the Olympics.
  6. Kieran, John and Daley, Arthur. The Story of the Olympic Games, 776 B. C. to 1956 A. D. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott, 1957.
  7. "Liddell, Eric." Encyclopedia Britannica.Britannica, 1967.
  8. Michell, David J. “Chariots of Fire.” chariots_of_fire.htm
  9. Story of Eric Liddell. [Videorecording] A Day of Discovery Television Production.
  10. Weyand, Alexander M. Olympic Pageant. MacMillan, 1952.

Last updated June, 2007

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