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An Olympian named Eric Liddell

Every couple years there is great anticipation and excitement as the world’s greatest athletes compete against one another in the Olympic games. For the athletes who leave for the games, we often hear their stories of what brought them to this point to be able to compete. Stories that inspire us and challenge us. However, some of those stories get buried over the years. So we wanted to share a story from the past about an Olympian and missionary named Eric Liddell. He lived his life sold out for Christ. Here is his story: 

It was 1924. Liddell traveled with his British Olympic team to Paris from Great Britain. He was the fastest Scottish man alive, having already won sprints between competitors from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Hopes had been high in Great Britain that he would take the gold in the 100 meter race. Liddell had found out, however, that the race was to be run on Sunday and because he believed that Sunday should be a day of rest, Liddell chose not to run in the 100 meter. It was not a popular decision. When he got to Paris, he spent that particular Sunday preaching at a Scottish church.

“Those who honour me I will honour.”

Because he did not run in the 100 meter, he signed up to run the 400 meter race. A race he excelled at , but on the world stage was not favored to win. Before the race began, a note was handed to him that said, “Those who honour me I will honor.” In his unique and unorthodox running style with head back and hands clawing the air, Liddell won the race, the gold, and set a new world record of 47.6 seconds. Describing the race later he said, “The secret of my success over the 400m is that I run the first 200m as fast as I can. Then, for the second 200m, with God’s help I run faster.”

Liddell not only ran in the Olympics to glorify God and enjoy the gift God gave him, but he lived his life devoted to Christ. He was born to a Scottish missionary couple in Tientsin, China and soon after his Olympic win he returned to China as a missionary and spent the rest of his life there. He spent the first few years as a teacher, and later went on to work in a rural town with a medical clinic that served the local people. When asked later on in his life about if he regretted his decision to leave athletics, he responded, “It’s natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I’m glad I’m at the work I’m engaged in now. A fellow’s life counts for far more at this than the other.”

“A fellow’s life counts for far more AT THIS than the other.”

Liddell ended up dying from a brain tumor in a Japanese internment camp during World War 2, after spending 18 years loving, serving, and giving his life to the Chinese people. It was said by his first biographer and close friend, D. P. Thompson,

“Never in the years we worked together — in shadow or in sunshine, in times of testing and difficulty, in hours of exhilarating triumph — did I hear him say or know him do anything of which I can imagine Christ would have disapproved. His was the most consistent Christian character, as well as one of the most attractive and winning of personalities of any man I have ever known intimately. Athlete, evangelist, missionary-friend, husband and father — he has been missed as few men of his generation have been. By multitudes he is remembered with affection and gratitude as one in whose life they saw so much of the strength and beauty of Christ.”

If you want to learn more about Eric Liddell and how he lived his life for Christ, check out this BBC article. Or check out Amazon’s selection of biographies on his life.