Liddell finds salvation with record-breaking 400m triumph

Of all the Olympic gold medals won over the years, few have been as well documented, chronicled and dramatised quite like Eric Liddell’s.  

Liddell was the devout Christian who refused to run his preferred 100m because one of the qualifying rounds fell on the Sabbath, and instead went on to secure a gold medal in the lung-bursting 400m.

Made famous by the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire, the Scot’s story is indeed a beautiful one at odds, however, with his running style.

Purists describe him as an ugly mover, with his head tilted skywards, his hands clawing through the air and his feet pattering at tremendous speeds.

Unlike the famed scene in Chariots of Fire, the schedule for the men’s sprint was announced several months before the Paris Games and once Liddell decided he could not run, he trained instead for the 200m and 400m.

He won a bronze medal in the 200m, with team mate and 100m champion Harold Abrahams back in fifth, and was faced with the 400m qualifying round the following day.

Some had derided Liddell’s decision not to run on a Sunday but it was reported that an American team member handed him a piece of paper shortly before the race. Written upon it were the words "Those who honour me I will honour."

Many felt Liddell’s tactics in the final bordered on the suicidal.

The 400m was considered almost a middle distance race in those days and the terrific speeds Liddell set off at in the final surprised the field and watchers alike.

Surely his stamina would fade in the closing stages and allow the more fancied Americans and even team mate Guy Butler to come through?

Somehow Liddell retained his form and focus and while other competitors fell in the trail of the searing pace he set, he managed to cross the line in an Olympic record of 47.6 seconds which would stand until the Berlin Games 12 years later.

Liddell was hoisted aloft before cheering crowds on the streets of Edinburgh. He later returned to the country of his birth, China, to continue his work as a missionary.

He would die of a brain tumour in a Japanese internment camp during the final year of the Second World War.


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