Paris, July 11, 1924
The crowd stirs restlessly as a young man steps up to the starting line and prepares to race. Taking his time, he digs two starting holes in the cinder track before straightening and viewing the lane before him. At twenty-two years of age, his decision not to participate in heats on Sunday had been well publicised, stunning and angering his fans. Now as he stands waiting for the signal to race, silence descends on the crowd. Few expect him to do well. The shorter sprints are his strength, not this 400-metre race and not in this heat that has left athletes struggling to maintain their pace.
In just 47.6 seconds the race is over and a new Olympic and world record has been set. The ‘Flying Scotsman’, as he has come to be known, casually shakes hands with his competitors then leaves the stadium. Eric Liddell has just won gold for his beloved Scotland.
Hours spent in training, the numerous sacrifices made, are now being rewarded. Many consider that he has just attained the greatest goal that any athlete could strive for. The race over, it is now time to sit back and enjoy the accolades.
But not for Eric. In less than a year he would board a ship for China. For twenty years he would minister to the Chinese people whom he loved, intent on bringing God’s Love to a darkened and forgotten world.
Over the years, numerous stories and legends would arise about Eric Liddell. His refusal to compromise his beliefs and his choice to honour and obey God rather than man would inspire the movie Chariots of Fire.
Yet, the 400-metre race was not the sole reason for Eric’s existence. Although some might argue that it was the most important race of his sporting career, it was not the all-important race of his life. That race had started much earlier. Eric Liddell dedicated his life to serving God. He lived a life of faith, spending many of those years as a missionary in China. In 1945 interned by Japanese forces in a camp for European and American non-combatants, he died – the race complete.
After one race, a reporter for the Scotsman had noted, “As usual, Liddell did not start too well, but made a wonderfully fast finish.” Although his style was dissected and often regarded as appalling, it got results. What happened at the finish line was what interested the fans.
As Christians, we all have a race to run. A race “marked out for us” that we are to “run with perseverance” (Hebrews 12: 1, NIV). Just as athletes must train and be disciplined, so must we. How we run and complete the race is important. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil, 3:13b-14, NIV).
In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness … (2 Tim 4:7-8a, NIV). Paul ran the race and finished well. Eric Liddell also ran his earthly race and finished well. Our goal should be to do the same.
Details and newspaper quotes from the book God’s Joyful Runner by Russell Ramsey, Bridge Publishing Inc, New Jersey, 1987.
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