Only One Life: The Inspiring Story of Eric Liddell

In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.”

-Eric Liddell


Nicknamed the “Flying Scotsman,” Eric Liddell was one of the best known Christians of the 20th century. His stunning Olympic victory was showcased in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. But Eric’s greatest triumph was yet to come.

Here is the inspiring story of Eric Liddell.


Born in 1902 to Scottish missionaries, Eric spent the early years of his life in China. In 1909, he was sent to Eltham College, a British boarding school for missionaries’ sons.

After studying at Eltham for 12 years, Eric studied at the University of Edinburgh and then at Oxford. Throughout his youth, Eric demonstrated remarkable athletic ability. From junior school to university, he competed in rugby, short distance running, and cricket—all with great success. 

However, running was his strongest sport. In 1923, Eric set a new British record of 9.7 seconds for the 100-yard dash. He also won quite a few British races. Eric joined the British Olympic squad and started training for the 1924 Paris Olympics. 

Although Eric excelled in the 200m and 400m races, his strongest race was the 100m sprint. But, when the Olympic schedule was announced, the 100m preliminaries were scheduled for a Sunday. Because of his strong Christian convictions, Eric withdrew from the race.

He refused to run on a Sunday, even when an Olympic medal was on the line.

The Scotsman faced a strong backlash from his fellow countrymen. He was denounced in newspapers and labeled a “traitor.” But Eric stayed true to his principles. He began to prepare for another race instead—the 400m. 

In Paris, Eric won his first heat, placed second in his quarterfinal, and won his semifinal. At the 400m finals, Eric lined up with five other men, including two world record holders. His chances were also slim because he was given the worst lane of the race. Before the final race, one of the Olympic masseurs had slipped a note into Eric’s hand.


The note simply read,

“It says in the Good Book: “He who honors Me, I will honor…” ¹

In our prison ministries, we seek to honour God in all that we do.


At the crack of the starting gun, Eric sprinted forward. Legs churning, arms pumping, he threw his whole being into running the race. As he rounded the turn near the end, he expected to see other runners catching up. But he was alone. He sprinted to the end and crossed the finish line first! That day, Eric Liddell wasn’t just the first Scotsman to win the 400m Olympic race.

He also set a new world record of 47.6 seconds. 


The following year, Eric sailed for northern China as a missionary. He taught at a boys’ school and, in 1934, married a Canadian missionary named Florence MacKenzie. They would later have three daughters—Heather, Maureen, and Patricia. 

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Liddell had to send his wife and daughters to Canada for their safety. Liddell remained behind to continue serving, and, in 1943, was imprisoned as a POW.

In the prison camp, Eric served tirelessly, doing Bible studies, teaching children, and planning sports. Although Winston Churchill arranged to free Eric in a prisoner exchange, he gave up his place so a pregnant woman could leave instead. Sadly, Eric developed a brain tumour and died just five months before liberation in 1945.

After winning his Olympic gold, Eric said,

“It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals.”

(In our prison ministries, we encourage people to run the greater race of following Jesus Christ.)

When Eric Liddell finished his earthly race in 1945, he stood before the throne of God at last. And he received crowns and laurels greater than any Olympic gold.

With the apostle Paul, he could gladly say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” (2 Timothy 4:7)


Are you searching? Jesus has the answers for addictions and stubborn habits. For more information, send the Crossmans a private message here on Facebook or come to a church service at Prince Albert Baptist Church. Take the first step in a walk of freedom!

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1.     This quote refers to 1 Samuel 2:30, where God said, “…for them that honour me I will honour…”