Olympian finished race, won ultimate prize

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 6, 2016

It’s estimated that four billion people worldwide will watch the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are 206 countries bringing 11,192 athletes to compete in 42 sports.

The Track and Field events, one of my favorites, remind me of Olympic runner Eric Liddell from the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. The 1981 movie Chariots of Fire told the story of this young athlete who represented England.

Liddell was born in 1902 in Tientsin, North China to parents who were missionaries with the London Mission Society. He received his education from 1908 – 1920 at a boarding school in England for sons of missionaries. Eric and his brother were noted rugby players, but Eric began to run, win races, and break records.

Biographers say Eric would rise early each day to meet the Lord in prayer and Bible study. Though he was shy and did not like to speak in public, he was invited by Scottish evangelist, D. P. Thompson, to share his testimony to a group of men. It’s said that Eric spoke of God’s love he had personally experienced and appealed to people to turn their lives over to God.

Eric Liddell began training for the 100 meter race in preparation for the 1924 Olympics. But, when he found out the qualifying heats would be held on Sunday, he dropped out of the event because believed he could not honor God and race on Sunday.

He switched to the 400 meter race, though it was four times longer than he had trained for. The 22-year-old runner won the gold medal in the 400 meter, setting a new world record of 47.6 seconds. He also won a bronze medal in the 200 meter race.

After the Paris Olympics, Liddell returned home a national hero. The next year he followed God’s call on his life and returned to China to teach in the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsen. He said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”

In 1934 he married Florence Mackenzie and they had three daughters. His wife and children fled from China in 1941 before the Japanese invaded in 1942. Following the invasion, Liddell and other foreigners were placed in Japanese prison camps. He won respect for his Christian character by doing whatever he could to help other prisoners, such as organizing athletic events for the children. Liddell began to suffer severe headaches and died Feb. 21, 1945, just before the camp was liberated. An autopsy revealed he had a massive brain tumor.

Eric Liddell once wrote, “Victory over all the circumstances of life comes not by might, nor by power, but by a practical confidence in God and by allowing His Spirit to dwell in our hearts and control our actions and emotions.”

There’s a Scripture that I believe describes his life, this “one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJ)

– Jan White is an award-winning columnist. She can be reached at jwhite@andycable.com