In the summer of 1924, the Olympics were underway in Paris. As the flocks of tourists gathered excitedly to cheer on their Olympians, Eric Liddell was having an internal conflict. He had worked tirelessly, training daily for this moment. He had dreamed of the day he would achieve a gold medal, while the world watched, and he would soon achieve this dream. Due to run the 100 meters, he could see his opportunity slipping away, as he discovered the race was scheduled for a Sunday. To Liddell, this date had special meaning. Being a religious man, he felt a conflict with partaking in the race on this day.Sunday was a day of rest, and rest he would. With religion winning over competition, he turned his back on this rare opportunity, following his heart. It turns out his act of strength didn't hinder him for long, as he was able to take part in the 400 meter race instead. Although his favoured feat was the 100 meters, he took his determination to the track that day and won the 400 meters, realizing his dreams of a gold medal.
This week, we are celebrating the life of Eric Liddell, who was born on the 16th January, 1902. Although he was born in China, Eric Liddell spent much of his life in Scotland. He was a Scottish Athlete, Rugby Union International player, and missionary. He was born to parents who were missionaries and Liddell followed in their footsteps. The Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, 1981, depicts Liddell's Olympic training and religious convictions, portrayed by fellow Scot Ian Charleson.
Liddell's Time in Scotland...
During his life, Eric Liddell spent two extended periods in Scotland. The first was between 1920 and 1925. He spent his time in Edinburgh, studying for a BSc in Pure Science. For the last year he studied theology at Congregational College. It was during this period that he played rugby for Scotland and trained to run in the Olympics. After the Paris Olypmics, where he famously turned down the 100 meters, he returned to Edinburgh, where he lived for a short time.
The second period in which he found himself in Scotland was between 1930 and 1932. After completing his congregational studies, he was ordained as a minister. During this time, he lived in a hostel in George Square, which belonged to the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society. During his time of residence, he attended Morningside Congregational Church at the corner of Chamberlain Road and Morningside Road.
Morningside Church was originally a Morningside United Presbyterian church. When it became too small in 1881, they built a new, larger church on the other side of the road. This is now the 'Eric Liddell Centre'. The church was named this in recognition of Liddell's involvement in the life of one of the founding churches and the local community during his time living there. Eric Liddell would have attended meetings in both the original church and the newly built building. He was known to preach at the original church on a number of occassions.
This image gives you an idea of how Morningside would have looked in the 1920s, when Eric Liddell would have lived there.
Liddell's Life beyond the Olypmics...
After graduating and competing in the Olympics, Liddell returned to China, where he served as a missionary, from 1925 to 1943, first in Tientsin and then in Siaochang. In 1934, he married Florence MacKenzie, a missionary from the Canadian parentage. They had three daughters, Particia, Heather and Maureen, who now all live in Canada.
Living in China was extremely dangerous in the 1930s and in 1937 Eric was sent to Siaochang. He was now crossing Japanese Army lines. In the 1940s, the British Government advised British nationals to leave China. Florence and the children left for Canada. During 1941-43, Liddell stayed in Tientsin, then interned in Weidhien camp until his death in 1945.