Eric Liddell – Complete Surrender (sprinter, 200m Bronz; 400m Gold; 1924 Paris)

(illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission)

Our first Olympic Portrait is that of Eric Liddell, the ‘Flying Scotsman’.

Eric was an accomplished athlete when he arrived with the British Team to Paris for the Olympics. He was one of the fastest men in the world, the best sprinter of the British athletes, a favourite for the 100 metres. That’s why it sounded so unbelievable when Eric said that he will not compete in the 100 metres sprint at the Olympics because the qualifying race is on the Lord’s Day, on Sunday. He wanted to honour his God and Saviour rather than win an Olympic medal!  Baffled people were, and asked him what was he going to do?  He said, he will run in the 400 metres instead.  Many believed he wasted his preparation for the Olympics, and wasted his talents by not running in the 100 metres, and he is missing out on glory just because the qualifying events were on a Sunday and he is so stubborn no to run on a Sunday.

It was Friday, 11th of July 1924 the day of the 400 metres final.  The stadium was like a furnace in the stifling summer weather. Eric wanted to win, but maybe he also fought with his doubts, did he do the right thing? Then a note arrived from the team physio, saying: “In the old book it says ‘He that honours me, I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.” That was it, Eric smiled gratefully. A confirmation, he was doing the right and honourable thing.

The athletes were lining up digging in their feet for the starting line. Eric could here bagpipes in the stadium, the sounds of his homeland, Scotland (although he was born in China)! The starter was giving the last instructions, the runners tensed up, waiting for the sound of the starting pistol. Bang! There went the gun. Up, and out, Eric sprinted as he could. That was the only thing he knew to do.  He was streaking ahead like a sprinter. But will he be able to keep up the pace for the whole 400 metres?  He was round the curve; he kept running as fast as he could. The others were catching up with him. He approached the last 100 metres, and he put everything into it, and he felt power coming from somewhere. Head back, chin forward, mouth open, knees jumping high up, arms waving as he pushed the air behind. There was the line, and there he crossed it. It was over. He won, and with a new Olympic record!

He collected his gold medal and went back to the hotel. On Sunday he was preaching in a Paris church, he had no time to hang around the stadium, he wanted to prepare his thoughts and sermon.

All those that said and published horrible things about him before, now hailed him as a phenomenon.   But that did not matter to him, he had other things to do, which were far more important. Later he went back to China as a missionary to honour and serve His Lord. He gave his life for his Lord in an internment camp in China during World War 2. Apparently, he could leave the camp as part of an exchange of prisoners, but he gave his place to a pregnant woman. His last words were “It’s complete surrender.” – referring to his life given to his Saviour. He honoured Christ till the end!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

[from GV, based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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