Eric Liddell was a Scottish international rugby player and Olympic gold medallist runner whose story was immortalised in an Oscar-winning film.
Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, his sporting abilities were apparent from an early age. He played for his school’s 1st XV at 15 and later became captain of rugby and cricket. At university in Edinburgh, he ran in sprint races and played varsity rugby.
His exploits led to a place on the back line of the Scotland rugby union team and he played in seven out of eight Five Nations matches in 1922 and 1923, scoring four tries. At the same time, he continued his athletics career, winning the 1923 AAA Championships 100 yards in a British record time of 9.7secs that stood for 23 years. He also took first place in the 200 yards in 21.6secs.
However, it is probably his appearance in the 1924 Olympics for which Liddell is best known, thanks largely to the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire. The successful film told how, as a devout Christian, Eric refused to run in the heats for his main event, the 100 metres, on a Sunday.
After withdrawing from the event, Eric instead turned his focus to the 400m final. Speaking of his approach, he said: “The secret of my success is that I run the first 200m as hard as I can. Then, for the second 200m, with God's help, I run faster.” The approach paid off and he came home with the gold to go with a bronze from the 200m.
His final races on British soil came in 1925, at a Scottish Amateur Athletics Association meet in Hampden Park. He equalled his Scottish championship record of 10.0secs in the 100m, won the 200m in 22.2secs and the 400m in 47.7secs and formed part of the winning relay team.
Shortly afterwards, Eric returned to his birthplace of China as a missionary. He died there in 1945 in a Japanese internment camp, aged 43.
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