Sports Non-Fiction posted October 5, 2013


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Untold stories behind great movies: Chariots of Fire

The Flying Scotsman

by forestport12




As a young man in my twenties who loved to run and feel the wind in my hair, I was transfixed on the opening scene from the movie, Chariots of Fire. At first, it looked as if they were running in their skivvies. But, then I recalled that look from the early nineteen hundreds. What really captured my attention was the calm focus and determination, as if they never sweated a day in their life. To see them leaving soft imprints on the sandy beach made me want to be with them. I was swept up with the movement and the music.

For those of you who may have lived on another planet or as a monk in a cave for the last thirty-five years, let me get you up to speed on the premise of the movie. It is about a young Scottish man named Eric Liddell, whose greatest ambition or calling was to be a missionary in China. Secondary to that was his love for running. And despite his awkward style, he was fast enough to earn a spot on the 1924 Olympic team for the United Kingdom.

When Eric arrived in Paris with his teammates, he was dismayed to find out that his race would have the trials run on Sunday. He promptly withdrew from this competition. Some mocked him and even considered him a traitor to his country. But one young man, who had already competed and medaled, offered to give Eric a chance to run in the 400 Meter race. The British contingent agreed and Eric humbly accepted this invitation.

When it came time for Eric to run, no one expected much. The longer distance was not considered his strong suit. Nevertheless, Eric knelt and then dug into his runner's crouch, waiting for the gun to sound. As the gun sounded, he did what he was used to doing in the 100 meter. He ran as hard as he could with head held high, arms flailing, and knees churning. When he broke the tape, he'd left the rest of the runners behind, as if they were standing still. The experts of that day figured he'd falter, but eyewitness accounts claimed his speed increased in the final one hundred meters.

After Eric broke the Olympic and world record, it lasted thirty-four years, remaining unbroken until 1958. He became an overnight celebrity. When interviewed and asked why he ran with his head held high, he said, "It's because my faith wouldn't have it any other way. When I run, I feel the presence of God filling me and lifting me higher."

One day his sister attempted to persuade him not to go to China. Political pressure was exerted that he should stay and run in the next Olympics. Despite the warnings about all the dangers and the volatile situations brewing in the world before World War II, he lived out the remaining years of his life as a missionary in Mainland China. When the war came, he ignored the warnings to flee. He stayed, and like so many other foreigners, the missionaries were rounded up and put into Japanese concentration camps.

What most people don't know was that he became a soulless number in his early forties. He had an inoperable brain tumor growing and spent most of the last days of his life with his head held down, until one shinning moment when he heard kids in the camp outside on a Sunday bickering over a game of stick ball. With a newfound surge of adrenaline, he walked outside. Other missionaries thought he would confront the children and chide them for their lack of honoring the Sabbath day. Instead, he spent the day, playing with the children and encouraging them that God had a plan for their lives. He lived his remaining days in relative obscurity, encouraging others to keep the faith.

When Eric passed away in the concentration camp with little fanfare, the few that knew of his celebrated history had no doubt that he had sprinted to the pearly gates of heaven.


*** For more information on the untold story of Eric Liddell, the "Flying Scotsman," read Catherine Swift, Men of Faith series.


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This is dedicated to my good friend from England who is back to writing again. Welcom back my friend from across the pond, Ron Heart. (Interesting Ron)
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