I walked out onto the track, my fellow contestants already there. WE shook hands and wished each other good luck. The shuffling, chattering crowd gazed down at us and exchanged opinions on who would win the 400 meter dash and the gold medal for the 1924 Olympics.
I could only imagine what they though about me, a 5′ 9” Scotsman who refused to run a race because it was held on a Sunday. While Harold Abrahams ran the heats, I was giving a talk to a church congregation. Giving up that chance was not easy. But I couldn’t run on Sunday, the Lord’s day. My countrymen lashed out when the heard I wouldn’t run. But I stuck by my decision, even though I longed to run.
The runners drew their numbers and I got number 6, the outside lane. I gritted my teeth; this didn’t look goo. I was already at a disadvantage with my short legs. But I dug toe marks into the packed dirt and waited. Other runners took their place. On man, Guy Butler, stood because of a knee injury, while the rest of us crouched. Sweat trickled down my face, partially from nervousness, partically from the July heat. Temperatures had reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit that day and the warmth lingered, even though it was seven o’clock at night. Minutes dragged as we waited for the pistol to go off. My muscles tense and my heart beat so hard it vibrated my ribcage. Any moment now, any –
I bolted along with the others. The crowd roared as we flew along the track. Sweat poured and legs worked as I strove to get past the others. Adrenaline surged through me. Strange as it seems, I felt God’s pleasure, as I always did when I ran. “Run in such a way that you may win” – I took that verse from 1 Corinthians to heart. Pure joy filled me, despite the anxiety I felt beforehand. Every length brought me closer. My limbs screamed at me to rest. But I kept going.
Then I crossed the finish line. I stumbled into my coaches arms and inhaled deep breaths of air. As the mist before my eyes cleared, I found him grinning from ear to ear.
“You won, Lad! You won the gold at 47.6 seconds!”
47.6 seconds? I beat the world record? I lay on the grass and tried to take it in. Somehow I got the gold medal. Staring up at the deep blue sky above me I let out a deep breath and grinned back at the coach. We did it again, God.
Eric Liddell was born in China to Scottish parents in 1902. He excelled in sports, particularly running, but he didn’t spend his life competing. He also felt God’s call to China, where he, his wife Florence, and their two daughters served as missionaries. He died in 1945 from a brain tumor in a Japanese internment camp at the age of forty-three.