Eric Liddell

Olympic 400 metre champion, teacher, missionary, alumnus.

Eric Liddell

Background

Eric Henry Liddell was born on 16 January 1902 in Tientsin (Tianjin), north China, the second son of Rev. and Mrs James Dunlop Liddell, who were missionaries with the London Mission Society.

Liddell was educated from 1908 to 1920 at Eltham College, Blackheath, a school for the sons of missionaries. He, with his older brother Rob, were left at their boarding school while their parents and sister, Jenny, returned to China.

In 1920, he joined his brother Rob at the University of Edinburgh to study for a BSc in Pure Science.

Athletics career

Athletics and rugby played a large part in Liddell’s University life. He ran in the 100 yards and the 220 yards for the University and later for Scotland. He also played rugby for the University and in 1922 played in seven Scottish internationals with A L Gracie.

As a result of having insufficient time for both running and rugby, he chose the former, aiming for the 100 metres in the Paris Olympics. When he learned that the heats were to be run on a Sunday - something his religious convictions would not allow him to do - he switched to the 400 metre competition.

He won a gold medal for the 400 metres and a bronze medal for the 200 metres at the Paris Olympics.

The story of this period in his life is famously told in the Academy Award-winning film, Chariots of Fire.

Missionary life

After the Olympics and his graduation in 1924, Liddell returned to north China. He served as a missionary from 1925 until 1943, firstly in Tientsin (Tainjin) and later in Siaochang. During his first period of leave in 1932 he was ordained as a minister.

On his return to China, he married Florence Mackenzie (of Canadian missionary parentage) in Tientsin in 1934, and the couple had three daughters.

Living in China in the 1930s was fraught and, in 1937, Liddell was sent across Japanese army lines to join his brother Rob in Siaochang.

By 1941 life in China had become so dangerous that the British Government advised British nationals to leave. Florence and the children left for Canada, but Eric stayed in Tientsin, eventually being interned in Weishien camp until his death in 1945.

The plaque

In honour of Eric H Liddell

1902-1945

Olympic 400 metres champion (1924), graduate of the University, teacher and missionary who lived here 1922-1924.

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