Eric Liddell

(1902—1945) missionary and athlete

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Harold Maurice Abrahams (1899—1978) athlete and civil servant


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(1902–45) A Scottish athlete, born in Tianjin, China, raised in Scotland from the age of 5, and educated initially in a village school before attending the School for the Sons of Missionaries in London. At school and at Edinburgh University (where he studied pure science) Liddell was an outstanding athlete, at 100, 200, and 440 yards. He also played rugby union for Scotland. At the 1924 Paris Olympics, he refused to run in the 100 metres, as the heats were scheduled for a Sunday and to run on the Sabbath was contrary to his sabbatarian principles. Liddell nevertheless won a bronze medal in the 200 metres, and a gold medal in the 400 metres. His story is dramatized in the film Chariots of Fire, which also features his strong athletics rivalry with English runner Harold Abrahams. Graduating from Edinburgh just days after his Olympic triumph, Liddell then studied divinity for a year, and began his missionary career in earnest, speaking at evangelical meetings across the country at weekends. His last athletics appearance in Scotland—at which he won three national Scottish titles—was in 1925, and he dedicated the rest of his life to missionary work and writing, posted to China as a missionary teacher. Liddell developed athletics at the college where he taught, and continued to run at athletics meetings, using sport as an element of his evangelical mission. Interned by the Japanese after their invasion of China in 1941, Liddell died of a brain tumour in the camp in 1945, remembered by camp survivors for his Christian principles and forbearance of the difficult circumstances, and—flouting the principles of his athletic prime, but in the name of the greater good—for refereeing Sunday hockey matches for young internees.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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