You’ve probably heard the song “Chariots of Fire,” but you may not have heard the story behind the song or even know that it’s from a movie of the same name about Olympic runner Eric Liddell.
Liddell was born in 1902 to Scottish parents who were missionaries in China. By his late teen years, he was already known as the fastest runner in Scotland. A strong Christian, Liddell once said, “I believe that God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. When I run it is in His pleasure.” In 1924, Liddell competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The movie Chariots of Fire highlights a story from those Olympics. Several months before the Olympics, Liddell found out that the 100 meter race was going to be run on a Sunday. Though this was his best event, Liddell refused to run on Sunday because he wanted to honor the Sabbath.
Instead of running the 100, Liddell trained for the 400 meter race. It was a race he was not expected to win, but he won the race and set a new world record with a finish time of 47.6 seconds. He also received a bronze medal in the 200 meter. Liddell competed for several more years before returning to China as a missionary.
In 1941, Liddell’s wife and children were advised to leave China due to war between China and Japan. Liddell stayed, however, supporting his brother who was a doctor at a mission station in a rural village. In 1943, the mission station was taken over by the Japanese, but Liddell continued to serve those with him in the internment camp. He settled disputes, taught Bible classes, and encouraged even disbursement of food. He died in 1945 of an inoperable brain tumor.
Though in 2008 he was voted Scotland’s most popular athlete ever, Liddell believed it was not his running that defined him, but his relationship with Christ. He said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ, or we repel them from Christ.”