Eric Liddell , winner of Olympic gold in the 400 metres Paris in 1924, is one of Scotland’s greatest heroes. No Scot had previously won an Olympic gold medal.
He went to Edinburgh University where his talent for sport shone through. A very good rugby player, a fast and intelligent winger, he won seven international caps for Scotland in 1922 and 1923. Athletics was, though, his real strength and he easily qualified to represent Britain in the 1924 Olympics at 100 metres and 200 metres. It is a story portrayed famously, if not with total accuracy, in the award-winning film Chariots of Fire.
The heats for the 100 metres, his best event and for which he was one of the favourites, were due to be held on a Sunday. Liddell knew this ahead of the Games (contrary to the film) and he refused to run on the Sabbath. Instead, he was entered for the 400 metres and qualified for the final. He first won, though, a bronze medal in the 200 metres. Then, with speed and stamina that surprised the favourites who expected him to flag over the longer distance, Liddell burst home to win the gold medal in the final of the 400 metres in a world record time.
After the Olympics, Liddell resumed his missionary work in Tientsin in China where he was later ordained a minister. When the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1937, Liddell was interned with others in a camp in Weifang. Shortly before the war’s end, he suffered a brain tumour and died in 1945 whilst still at the camp.
In the reception to the Old College in Edinburgh University, the memory of Scotland’s hero continues to provide inspiration through a statue sculpted by Lesley Pover. That distinctive head-back, arms-outstretched, lung-bursting running style still has evocative power. Liddell's gold medal from Paris is displayed with pride.