Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Olympic Fever


Here at Identity HQ we have been hit with a severe case of Olympic fever. Since the games kicked off last week “Team ID” have been glued to the coverage of Team GB, as they rocket up the medal table.

With Andy Murray claiming a gold medal in the men’s tennis final, and silver in the mixed doubles final, we couldn’t help but notice the contribution that Scotland has made to the games. The Scots have boasted five gold medals, two silver and one bronze medal (at time of writing) at London 2012, (meaning that the nation would currently stand in eighth place if we were entered separately from the UK) across an array of events including; rowing, canoeing, cycling, swimming, gymnastics and tennis. With a little over a week to go at the games, the team here at Identity HQ are sure a few more medals will be won by our athletes.

Scotland has had its share of famous Olympians, Sir Chris Hoy, Katherine Granger, and Allan Wells, are just a few of the Scots on a seemingly endless list to cement their place in Olympic history in their respective fields.

However this post is set to focus on one of the Scotland most famous Olympians who happens to have a connection with Greenock, Eric Liddell.

Now, those of you who have seen the movie Chariots of Fire will know the story of Eric Liddell (and I’m sure you’re all humming the soundtrack right now). But for those of you, who are not aware of Liddell’s story, allow us to tell you.




Eric Henry Liddell was born January 16, 1902 in Tientsin, North China to parents Rev. and Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell who were missionaries in the country as members of the London Mission Society. Eric was educated at Eltham College until 1920 when he moved north to Edinburgh University where he worked towards a BSc in Pure Science.

It was while at Edinburgh University that Eric discovered his love for sport.  He was a fantastic runner and competed in the 100 yards and the 220 yard dash for Edinburgh University, his talents were so highly thought of that he would later go on to represent Scotland in these events. He was also a keen rugby player and played regularly for the university team. In a similar way to athletics, Erics talents shone through, and he was chosen to represent the Scottish national team on seven occasions.


Image Courtesy of  http://www.inthewinningzone.com 
Unfortunately for Eric, he was unable to compete in both Rugby and athletics due to the lack of time in his schedule. A decision had to be made, and Eric opted to pursue running over rugby. It was here that Liddell set himself a goal: to compete in the 100 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympic games. However, upon the release of the race schedules Eric opted out of the 100 meters due to the heats taking place on a Sunday. Due to his religious beliefs he believed that Sundays were a day of rest, and he was not prepared to take part on the Sabbath. Instead Liddell chose to compete in the 400 meter competition, however many people doubted he would have the stamina and skill to compete in the race.

It is here that we can tie the story of Eric Liddell to Greenock. Cappielow, the home ground of Greenock Morton Football Club, has been used for other purposes then football over the years. It was often used as a race track, and it has even been rumoured to have at one point been home to one or two sheep, who used to graze upon the grass, and keep it nice and short! Greenock Glenpark Harriers, a local athletics club, held an annual sports meeting at Cappielow from the early 1920s though to the 30s, and were successful in attracting a large number of spectators and competitors to their meetings each year.



Eric Liddell was one of those many competitors who participated in the Harriers meetings while touring with the Canadian Olympic team before the 1924 Paris Olympics. In one of Liddell’s biographies he relates how, in the usual fashion before starting blocks were used in sprint races he used his trowel to dig his starting holes in the cinder track at the start of the 100 yards race. After winning the race he walked back up the sprint straight to retrieve his trowel, only to find it missing from the grass edge where he has left it, and realised that it has been stolen. He said it was the only time in his long career of competing throughout England and Scotland that this had happened to him.

Despite the theft of his trowel, Liddell went on to compete at the 1924 Olympic Games and won a gold medal in the 400 meter competition (breaking the Olympic world record with a time of 47.6 seconds) as well as a bronze medal for the 200 meters.


Video courtesy of The Eric Liddell Centre

Later in 1924, after the Olympics the Greenock Glenpark Harriers held another race meeting at Cappielow Park, this time featuring athletes that had participated in the Paris Olympic Games. Eric Liddell was one of the competitors that were scheduled to participate at the event. It is believed that in excess of four thousand people turned up at the stadium just to see Liddell and his Olympic Gold Medal.

Liddell returned to Cappielow for the annual athletics meeting in 1925, this time he presented the Glenpark Harriers with a trophy, the ‘Eric Liddell Challenge Trophy’ which can be seen today at the Mclean Museum 


After he graduated Liddell returned to china where he served as a missionary from 1925 – 1943. In 1932 he followed in his fathers footsteps and became a minister.

Living in China was extremely dangerous in the 1930s and 1940s, by 1941 World War Two was at it’s peak with the USA Declaring war on Japan, as a result of this  the British Government instructed all British Nationals to leave the country, Liddell opted to stay, however he sent his wife and daughters to Canada. In 1943 he was taken by Japanese forces presenting China to the Weishien internment camp. Sadly Eric Liddell would pass away in 1945 as a result of a brain tumour.

Today the name Eric Liddell is one known and celebrated around the world, many believe him to be a superb example of someone who lived out the Olympic ideals while upholding the Olympic motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" which means, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger", throughout his life.


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