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Religion: Olympics — Running the race

Religion: Olympics — Running the race

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Opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympics were scheduled for Friday in Tokyo, Japan after a year of delay due to COVID-19. Every Olympics results in incredible stories of courage, discipline, determination and faith. Perhaps none is more inspiring than Eric Liddell, who competed in the 1924 Paris Olympics. His story was captured in the film “Chariots of Fire” that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1982.

A native of Scotland, Liddell had earned a national reputation for his speed in the 100-meter dash. The Paris Olympics would determine whether he was, as many believed, the fastest man in the world. His cousin, Jenny, tried to convince him to give up his running and fulfill his commitment to serve as a missionary in China. He responded that “God made me for a purpose ... made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” At 22, he qualified for the Olympics and sailed from England with his teammates. While en route, he had a crisis of faith.

As a devout Christian, Eric held a strong conviction about observing the Sabbath and had long refused to compete on Sunday. He learned that the 100-meter heat for which he had trained was scheduled for Sunday. Crestfallen, but consistent with his convictions, he refused to compete. Instead, he agreed to switch to the 400 meters, an event for which he had not prepared.

The film portrays Eric on Sunday, standing in the pulpit at the Church of Scotland in Paris reading from Isaiah 40 while others stumble through their grueling races:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth

Does not become weary or tired.

His understanding is inscrutable.

He gives strength to the weary,

And to him who lacks might He increases power.

Though youths grow weary and tired,

And vigorous young men stumble badly,

Yet those who wait for the LORD

Will gain new strength;

They will mount up with wings like eagles,

They will run and not get tired,

They will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)

The following week, Eric Liddell ran in the 400, an event for which many had written him off. He not only won the gold, he set a new world record. When someone asked him how he ran the race, he said, “The first half I run as fast as I can, and the second half I run faster with God’s help.”

The next year, Liddell left for China where he served as a missionary until his death as a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp in 1945. He was buried behind the Japanese officers’ quarters at Weifeng in the Shandong Province, 6.5 hours north of Beijing. A memorial headstone was later erected at the site with the quote, “They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary.”

Few ever compete in the Olympics, but all of us must run our own race. With the first-century Olympics in the background, Scripture says, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. His books are available at Email

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