Eric Liddell

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Eric Liddell at the Paris Olympics in 1924

Eric Henry Liddell (born January 16, 1902 in Tianjin , † February 21, 1945 in Weixian ; Chinese name 李爱锐, Li Airui ) was a Scottish athlete and missionary who became Olympic champion over 400 meters in 1924 . He was also a national rugby union player for Scotland. After finishing his sports career, he worked as a Protestant missionary in China . His life was partially processed in the films The Hour of the Winner and On Wings of Eagles .


Liddell was born in China, the second son of James Dunlop Liddell, who worked for the Scottish Church. In 1908 his parents sent him to Eltham College , a boarding school for the children of missionaries in London . During their time at this boarding school, Liddell and his brother saw their parents and later-born sister only two or three times when their parents were on home leave. On these occasions the family lived mostly together in Edinburgh .

At the boarding school, Liddell soon became the captain of cricket and rugby teams. He also proved to be talented in athletics and was soon considered the fastest runner in Scotland. While he was still at school, several newspaper articles appeared that described him as a future Olympic champion. Based on the Flying Scotsman steam locomotive , which set several speed records, it was often referred to as the "flying Scotsman".

In 1920 Liddell enrolled at Edinburgh University where he studied philosophy of science . During his studies, sport played an important role in his life. For the university team, he ran sprint races and played rugby. In 1922 and 1923 he completed seven international matches for the Scottish national team as part of the Five Nations tournament . In 1924 Liddell was British champion over 100 and 220 yards; the time of 9.7 seconds over 100 yards has not been undercut for 35 years.

With these achievements Liddell qualified for the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris . The deeply devout Christian refused to take part in the 100-meter run because it took place on a Sunday. Instead of the race, he preached in Paris in a Scottish church community. His victory over 400 meters (heats and finals took place on working days) came as a surprise, however, as his specialty was actually the 100-meter course. With 47.6 seconds he even ran a new world record . Two days earlier he was third over 200 meters. Because of his faith, he was also called "the flying pastor" after his success at the 1924 Olympics. The experiences Liddell and the 100-meter Olympic champion Harold Abrahams in 1981 in Chariots of Fire (Engl. Chariots of Fire ) filmed. Liddell was portrayed by Ian Charleson . In 1930, Liddell ran his last race, winning the North China Championship. In the course of his life he devoted himself mainly to church tasks.

After graduating in 1925, Liddell returned to China to work as a missionary in Tianjin like his parents . He worked there for the London Missionary Society . In 1932 he was ordained a pastor, in 1934 he married the Canadian missionary Florence Mackenzie, with whom he had three daughters. During his time in Tianjin, Liddell was involved in the design of the MinYuan Stadium , which is therefore based on the English stadium Stamford Bridge .

After the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the situation for foreigners in China became increasingly dangerous. In 1941 the British government advised its citizens to leave the country. Liddell stayed in China while his wife and three daughters moved to Canada .

In 1943 Liddell was taken to a concentration camp in Tianjin by the Japanese army, along with other British people . He later developed a brain tumor in the Weixian internment camp and died in 1945 at the age of 43. His fellow inmate in the camp, Norman Cliff, describes Liddell as popular in the camp, where he also worked as a teacher and is said to have organized sporting events for the youth in the camp. He was buried in Shijiazhuang . The exact location of his grave was only determined in 1989 and marked with a granite grave in 1991. The story of his death was picked up in the 2016 feature film On Wings of Eagles . However, the film was not a success financially or with critics.


Memorial stele for Eric Liddell on the former site of the Weixian internment camp

From 1945 to 1958 there was a memorial fund that awarded a prize named after Liddell for young athletes and provided financial support for Liddell's children.

When Allan Wells , also a Scot, won the Olympic 100-meter race in Moscow in 1980 , he dedicated the victory to Liddell. The first gold medalist in the Olympic pentathlon Stephanie Cook also called Liddell an inspiration for her career in athletics.

In 1987, a church dementia and neighborhood center in Edinburgh was named after Eric Liddell. He once gave Bible lessons in one of the four churches involved. Photos and information on Liddell's life are on display in the "Gold-Medal Café" there.

In 2002 Liddell was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame after being voted Scotland's most popular athlete in a public vote.

Since 2016, Liddell's Alma Mater, the University of Edinburgh, has again had a scholarship for young athletes. The university is also keeping Liddell's medals on permanent loan.


  • Sally Magnusson: The Flying Scotsman. A biography. Quartet Books, New York NY et al. 1981, ISBN 0-7043-3379-1 .
  • Catherine Swift: Eric Liddell. Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis MN 1990, ISBN 1-55661-150-1 .
  • Ellen Caughey: Eric Liddell. Olympian and Missionary. Barbour Publishing, Uhrichsville OH 2000, ISBN 1-57748-667-6 .
  • David McCasland: Eric Liddell. Pure gold. A new Biography of the Olympic Champion who inspired Chariots of Fire. Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 2001, ISBN 1-57293-130-2 .
  • Sue Shaw: Eric Liddell - Running for God, ISBN 3-7751-2042-4
  • Duncan Hamilton: For the Glory: the life of Eric Liddell , London: Doubleday 2016, ISBN 978-0-85752-259-7

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h Golden Scots: Eric Liddell, running to immortality . In: BBC Sport . July 20, 2012 ( [accessed March 27, 2020]).
  2. a b Simon Burnton: 50 stunning Olympic moments: No8 Eric Liddell's 400 meters win, 1924 . In: The Guardian . January 4, 2012, ISSN  0261-3077 ( [accessed March 27, 2020]).
  3. Eric Liddell Bio, Stats, and Results. Accessed March 27, 2020 (English).
  4. a b ERIC LIDDELL IN WEIHSIEN CAMP - 1943 - 1945. Accessed March 27, 2020 .
  5. Chariots of Fire's Liddell, a Chinese hero? In: Reuters . August 6, 2008 ( [accessed March 27, 2020]).
  6. ^ On Wings of Eagles. Retrieved March 27, 2020 .
  7. Eric Liddell Memorial Fund - Archives Hub. Retrieved March 27, 2020 .
  8. Thrilled to follow in Liddell's footsteps. Accessed March 27, 2020 (English).
  9. Our History. In: Eric Liddell Center. Retrieved March 27, 2020 (UK English).
  10. Eric Liddell - Scotland's most popular sporting hero. Accessed March 27, 2020 (English).
  11. Eric Liddell Sports Scholarships launched. Accessed March 27, 2020 (English).