Any views expressed within media held on this service are those of the contributors, should not be taken as approved or endorsed by the University, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University in respect of any particular issue.
Sacrifice, Compassion and an Inspiration: Eric Henry Liddell – 100 Years – A Timeline and a Tribute

Sacrifice, Compassion and an Inspiration: Eric Henry Liddell – 100 Years – A Timeline and a Tribute


2024 marks 100 years since Eric Henry Liddell struck gold at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games after refusing to run on a Sunday. This timeline evidences and pays tribute to the life of this remarkable person.


Grant Jarvie, Ross Walker, Amy Woodgate, Fan Hong


Eric Henry Liddell was born on the 16th January 1902. The Paris Olympics of 2024 also marks 100 years since the Olympic events of 1924, in the same city.

This brief timeline serves as a tribute and reminder of some of the key moments. It forms part of a larger body of work fronted by Eric Liddell Foundation. 

The researchers are grateful for the funded research grant that helped to further evidence the life of this remarkable person. 

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

Eric lived at Ashbank, Old Gartmore Road, Drymen, North of Glasgow- he attended Drymen village school for a year. This was during his father’s furlough. Shortly after this at the age of 6, Eric moves with his brother Rob to England, to attend boarding school in South London for the sons of missionaries. Their parents and younger sister returned to China knowing they wouldn’t see their sons for another 4 and a half

Eric and his brother Robert continue their schooling at LMS School for Sons of Missionaries at Blackheath, England. Shortly afterwards the school moved to Nottingham and is renamed Eltham College.

He was Eltham College School sports Captain and dedicated countless hours to ensuring that his fellow students and school served not only each other but a bigger humanitarian purpose… As early as eight years old, Liddell dissuaded older pupils from bulling others … On one occasion when the headmaster was cycling through the quadrangle, Liddell shouted: “Hey, no Cycling there”. In Liddell’s eyes, everyone was to be treated and viewed equally (Hamilton, 2016: 38).

The first of 3 wars that shaped Eric’s life, broke out during his school years.

He played for both the school’s 1917 1st Cricket XI and 1918 1st XV Rugby, later becoming Captain of both the school rugby team (1918) and cricket team (1919).

In 1918, he set a new school record of 10.2 seconds for 100-yard race. Eltham College voted and named Eric as the best overall athlete.

Edinburgh – The Liddell family is reunited whilst James Liddell, Eric’s father, is on furlough.

Eric and Robert both attend the University of Edinburgh. Eric first studied at Heriot -Watt before moving onto complete a BSc in Pure Science at Edinburgh University. Athletics and rugby played a large part in Eric’s University life. He ran in the 100 yards and the 220 yards for Edinburgh University and later for Scotland. He also played rugby for Edinburgh University, before going on to represent Scotland.


Liddell first entered the Scottish Athletics Championships as a 19-year-old in 1921 and scored the first of his five successive victories in the 100 and the 220-yard races.

Eric played Rugby in seven Scottish Internationals with A.L. Gracie.

At the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) Championships 1923, Liddell won the 100 yards and 200 yards. His time of 9.7 seconds for 100 yards in 1923 stood as a British record until 1946 when it was equalled by McDonald Bailey.

Eric Liddell alongside some of his fellow students at Edinburgh University ran a successful campaign across Scotland by organising ‘Sport for boys’ which was purposely aimed at getting more youth into sport and avoid going down the wrong pathway in life. With his Athletic success he also tours the UK giving talks about citizenship, sportsmanship, and advocating for exercise, and a teetotal lifestyle.

Eric wins the men’s 400 metres at the Paris Olympics on 11th July 1924. He won the race in a record time of 47.6 seconds which was an Olympic and World Record. Eric also won a bronze medal in the 200-metre race. Eric was initially to run the 100 metres, but refused to participate as the qualifying races were on a Sunday. This act of principle, combined with his athletic ability inspired the film Chariots of fire, and made Eric Liddell’s name as both a sportsman and a man of faith.

Eric graduates with his BSC on the 17th of July just two weeks after winning at the Paris Olympics.

Eric travels to compete in the USA as guest of the Cambridge University relay team.

In his last British races at the Amateur Athletics Association meet in Hampden Park. Eric equalled his Scottish championship record of 10.0secs in the 100m, won the 200m in 22.2secs and the 400m in 47.7secs and formed part of the winning relay team.

July 1925 Eric was re-unitied with his whole family in Beidaihe, China, a coastal resort in Hebei province.

Eric takes up the position of science teacher at the Anglo-Chinese Christian College in Tianjin, run by the London Missionary Society. Here he meets his future wife Florence McKenzie.

Eric Liddell provided care and compassion to the community in Tianjin. He led his students in building a gymnasium in a disused wood factory north of the school. A gymnasium which was open to the public. Eric also worked on the renovation of The Minyuan Stadium which was built in 1920 but renovated in 1926. Liddell consulted the blueprint for the Stamford Bridge stadium in London to provide many suggestions including the structure of the track, lighting equipment, and grandstands. At the time the stadium was one of the best in China. It attracted international sports events, including international athletic meetings and international football matches. Tianjin Anglo-Chinese College held three-day sports meetings in the Minyuan Stadium. Eric Liddell is often referred to as the father of the Minyuan Sports Stadium.

Eric decides not to compete in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam, preferring to continue his missionary work.

Eric’s last golden medal was won when he attended the 1929 International Games in Tianjin. He was 27 years old. It was the last time he attended the international sporting competition, where he beat the German runner Otto Peltzer over 400 metres with a time of 49.1 seconds.

Liddell ran his last race in 1930 when he won the North China Championship.

In 1931 Eric takes his first Furlough period. In July 1932 Eric was ordained as a minister. Following his ordination, he spent six weeks with Florence and her family in Toronto, and their wedding date was set for March 1934. By September of 1932, Eric had returned to Tientsen.

In 1932 Eric returns to Tianjin and in 1934 he marries Florence Mackenzie.

Patricia (Trisha) Liddell is born in Tianjin. They lived at 38 Chongqing Dao (formerly known as Cambridge Road) Tianjin, China.

The second of 3 wars that shaped Eric’s life. This war contributed to his death in an internment camp in 1945.

Heather Liddell is born in Tianjin 38 Chongqing Dao (formerly known as Cambridge Road) Tianjin, China.

Eric leaves his family in Tianjin and is posted to Xiaochang (previously Siaochang) where he joined his brother Rob. Liddell worked on the front lines at Xiaochang Hospital during WWII by cycling across hostile areas to reach sick people … on one occasion Eric saved two Chinese soldiers wounded by the Japanese invaders in Xiaozhang County. To express their gratitude to Eric, one of them presented him with a painting with their signatures and seals.

The third of 3 wars that shaped Eric’s life.

In 1939, Eric and Flo left China on furlough. They took Heather and Patricia to meet family members in both Canada and the UK. Having spent time in Scotland with his family, he toured the UK providing a number of talks about his life experiences as an athlete and missionary. The Liddell’s then travelled to Canada in a convoy that came under attack from German submarines.

Returned to China in 1941. Eric was still stationed at Xiaochang Mission whilst Flo and the children remained in Tianjin.

In early 1941, the Xiaozhang station was forcibly closed by the Japanese and the missionaries had to return to Tianjin. By May of that year, the dangers posed by the war had increased to the point where Liddell thought it best that his pregnant wife and their two daughters leave for Canada. Find out more in this article…

Nancy Maureen Liddell is born in Canada, in 1941, she never had the opportunity to meet her father.

Eric returns alone from Xiaozhang to Tianjin until rounded up and interned in 1943 in Weihsien (Wiefang) Prison Camp, Shantung (Shandong) Province, where he was admired and loved by the scores of imprisoned children from the Chefoo School of the China Inland Mission who were separated from their parents.

Liddell agrees to referee children’s sports matches on Sundays. Liddell would surrender it all rather than run on Sunday. But when it came to the good of children in a prison camp, he would referee on Sunday. Not only did he referee, but to make these sporting affairs possible, he used his own personal belongings to make equipment for others such as his bed sheets to make hockey sticks.

Detainment camp: Eric provides support and compassion to his fellow detainees until he dies of a brain tumour and haemorrhage on Feb 21st, 1945.

Eric Liddell’s athletic achievements are portrayed in the Hollywood Film, Chariots of Fire, made by David Putnam. By July 1982 the film had taken £49.4 million in the United States of America (USA) making it at the time the biggest money-making foreign film in US Box Office history.

The Eric Liddell Games were held in Weifang, organised by the Eric Liddell Foundation.

Eric is one of the first inductees into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame (2022). At the time he topped the vote for the most popular sports person Scotland had produced. In 2005 he is then inducted into the Scottish Athletics Hall of Fame.

In 2022 Eric enters the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame.

Eric Liddell Inaugural Annual Lecture.

January 16, 2024, marks 100 years since Eric Liddell was born. The Eric Liddell 100 is a programme of events and activities to recognise and celebrate the life, sporting and community service achievements of one of Scotland’s iconic figures. It is being planned around 2024, the centenary of Eric Liddell’s historic success at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

Sacrifice, Compassion and an Inspiration

Even in the camp where he was interned his enthusiasm and commitment prevailed. He was the camp’s brightest star, affectionately known as the Olympic Champion and ‘Uncle Eric’.

He organised sports’ activities to raise morale for the old and the young. He was an optimist.

He told them the sad and miserable days would be over soon and the bright tomorrow would come. He was loved, especially by young people.

Stephen Metcalf, a fellow prisoner with Eric related how he had cared for him during the cold winter conditions. According to Stephen, Eric approached him one day to offer him his running shoes. He said:

I see your shoes are worn out and it is now midwinter. Perhaps you will be able to get a few weeks of wear out of these,.

We can only imagine Eric had been saving the historic running shoes as a memento of his past triumphs but in the difficult conditions of the internment camp, their practical value to Stephen far outweighed their sentimental value to Eric.

Stephen Metcalfe later wrote of Liddell:

He gave me two things. One was his worn-out running shoes, but the best thing he gave me was his baton of forgiveness. He taught me to love my enemies and to pray for them.

Little did Eric Liddell think when he left Edinburgh University in 1924, we would be talking about him almost 100 years later.

More than a famous athlete, a rugby player, an Olympian, a Charioteer, a flying Scotsman, an Edinburgh University alumnus, or a person of faith.

What Eric represents is the best of all of us and the promise and invitation of what we could do to help others.

Erics values and humanity are as good a foundation as any for striving to make the world a better place.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Report this page

To report inappropriate content on this page, please use the form below. Upon receiving your report, we will be in touch as per the Take Down Policy of the service.

Please note that personal data collected through this form is used and stored for the purposes of processing this report and communication with you.

If you are unable to report a concern about content via this form please contact the Service Owner.

Please enter an email address you wish to be contacted on. Please describe the unacceptable content in sufficient detail to allow us to locate it, and why you consider it to be unacceptable.
By submitting this report, you accept that it is accurate and that fraudulent or nuisance complaints may result in action by the University.