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Three months before the Olympic Games, Eric received the schedule of his races, only to learn that the 100-meter qualifying round was on Sunday. One of Eric’s steadfast convictions was that Sunday was “the Lord’s day” and not a day for sports activity. He had never run on Sundays, and he wasn’t about to break his conviction even for the Olympics. So he told the British Olympic Committee simply, “I’m not running on a Sunday.” Suddenly the darling of the British team was called a “traitor” to his country for not competing in the 100 meters. Even members of parliament lambasted him for putting his selfish beliefs before duty to country. Yet Eric stood his ground. It was this decision to remain true to his convictions and to his God that was to really set Eric Liddell apart in the history of sports.
As The Guardian reported, “Liddell has already decided that the race he has chiefly to run in the world is not on the cinder track.”8 And so on July 6, 1924, while fellow British athlete Harold Abrahams was on his way to Olympic gold in the 100 meters, Liddell was giving the Sunday sermon at the Scots Church in Paris.
Of course Eric was ready to compete in the 200 meters, and to ease the situation, the British Olympic Committee decided to offer Liddell entrance into a second event—the 400 meters. The first race for Liddell was the 200 meters. He won a bronze medal yet received little praise for this achievement.
The morning of the 400-meter semifinals and final, a note was passed to Eric from one of the British team masseurs. When Eric got to the dressing room of the stadium, he opened it and read, “It says in the Old Book, ‘Him that honours me, I will honour.’ Wishing you the best of success always.”9 That word of encouragement reminded Eric of God’s fidelity even in the midst of the storm.
Eric qualified for the final, which led to one of the most memorable Olympic feats ever. Liddell drew the outside lane for the final which is considered the worst lane since one can’t see one’s opponents at the start. He was running against the American Horatio Finch, who had just set the world record in the semifinals. As the runners were getting in position, Eric suddenly heard the sound of bagpipes as the king’s pipers began to play a Scottish tune, “The Campbells Are Coming.” Inspired by the music and the encouragement of God’s Word, Eric burst into the lead at the sound of the gun, running the first 200 meters in 22.2 seconds. Many doubted that he could keep up that kind of pace. As Finch tried to narrow the gap down the homestretch, Liddell threw his head back, turned on the jets, and crossed the finish line at a world-record time of 47.6 seconds. He had won Olympic gold!
The Guardian would write,
The victory was most popular with the crowd. Liddell’s refusal to run in the preliminary heats of the 100 metres last Sunday because of religious scruples aroused considerable curiosity, which was heightened when it was learned that he will preach in the Scotch church on Sunday. The public here are not accustomed to the idea of a man in holy orders being an athlete, and his splendid win was loudly cheered.10
Later when asked how he could run the 400 meters with such intensity, he replied, “The first half I run as fast as I can, and the second half I run faster with God’s help.”
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