Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions Eric Liddell: The Little Known Story of the Olympian’s Final Years

Eric Liddell: The Little Known Story of the Olympian’s Final Years

Liddell would sacrifice a gold medal for himself (though he ultimately won the gold in a different race) in the name of truth, but would bend over backward for others in the name of grace.

A Godly Example

Mary Taylor Previte, imprisoned at Weihsein as a child, described Eric as “Jesus in running shoes.” Dr. David J. Mitchell, who was also one of the children at the camp, wrote how besides sports, Eric Liddell taught the children his favorite hymn:

By still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still, my soul, thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Dr. Mitchell also wrote:

Eric Liddell often spoke to us on I Corinthians 13 and Matthew 5. These passages from the New Testament clearly portray the secret of his selfless and humble life. Only on rare occasions when requested would he speak of his refusal to run on the Sunday and his Olympic record.

…Not only did Eric Liddell organise sports and recreation, through his time in internment camp, he helped many people through teaching and tutoring. He gave special care to the older people, the weak and the ill, to whom the conditions in camp were very trying. He was always involved in the Christian meetings which were a part of camp life. Despite the squalor of the open cesspools, rats, flies and disease in the crowded camp, life took on a very normal routine, though without the faithful and cheerful support of Eric Liddell, many people would never have been able to manage.

…None of us will ever forget this man who was totally committed to putting God first, a man whose humble life combined muscular Christianity with radiant godliness.

What was his secret? He unreservedly committed his life to Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord. That friendship meant everything to him. By the flickering light of a peanut-oil lamp early each morning he and a roommate in the men’s cramped dormitory studied the Bible and talked with God for an hour every day.

Marcy Ditmanson, a Lutheran missionary imprisoned with Eric, shared his recollections:

Eric spoke with a charming Scottish brogue, and more than anyone I had ever known, typified the joyful Christian life. He had a marvelous sense of humor, was full of laughter and practical jokes, but always in good taste. His voice was nothing special, but how he loved to sing, particularly the grand old hymns of the faith. Two of his favorites were “God Who Touches Earth With Beauty” and “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” He was no great orator by any means but he had a way of riveting his listeners with those marvelous, clear blue eyes of his. Yes, that’s what I remember most about him as he spoke?those wonderful eyes and how they would twinkle.

Full Surrender

Though he had become an “uncle” and father figure to numerous children, Eric Liddell never saw his own wife and daughters in this world again. After writing a letter to Florence from his bed in the infirmary, he said to his friend and colleague, “It’s full surrender,” and slipped into a coma. Suffering with a brain tumor, he died in 1945. And while all Scotland mourned, all in Heaven who had cheered Eric on as a servant of Jesus gave him a rich welcome.