Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

JANUARY 16th  

On this day in history in 1902, was born Eric Liddell.

Liddell was a missionary, Rugby Union international and athlete who became famous even before he was portrayed in the film, Chariots of Fire.  

Liddell was born in China, the son of a family of missionaries. At the age of six, he was sent to Eltham College, Blackheath, an academy for the sons of missionaries, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding sportsman and athlete. In 1920, Liddell proceeded to Edinburgh University to read Pure Science. He represented the university in the 100 yards and 220 yards sprints and was selected for the university rugby side. In 1922, Liddell was chosen to represent Scotland at Rugby and played in seven internationals. In 1923, he won the 100 metre and 200 metre runs of the Amateur Athletic Association and earned a place in the British Olympic team at the Paris Olympiad of 1924. 

At the Olympics, Liddell caused a sensation by dropping out of the 100 metres, his best event, and forfeiting a potential gold medal. Liddell was obliged to abandon his place in the race as it was being staged on a Sunday and his religious standards would not allow him to take part. In the film, Chariots of Fire, Liddell is portrayed as wide-eyed in astonishment when the bitter news that the event is being staged on the Sabbath is revealed to him. This depiction gives credit to the actor for his dramatic performance, but not to the representation of reality, as Liddell was aware well in advance, of the schedule of play. Accuracy was not this movie director’s forte. Two of his characters, Lord Lindsay and Tom Watson, were made up names because the participants in the real events refused to allow their names to be used. The race around Trinity Great Court was not actually completed on time until 1927, and the scene in the movie was shot not at Trinity but at Eton. Mercifully, inaccuracies such as these are not taken into account when presenting Academy Awards.  

Liddell took bronze in the 200 metres and gold in the 400 metres setting a record of 47.6 seconds and forcing two other competitors to stumble in the effort to keep up. He then returned to Edinburgh to complete his degree course.  

After the Olympics, Liddell returned to China to work as a missionary. He married and had three daughters, but when the Second World War occurred, he sent his family to safety in Canada. Liddell was captured by the Japanese and died of a brain tumour, brought about by overwork and malnourishment. He is buried in the Mausoleum of Martyrs in Shih Cha Chuang.

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