From Eric Liddell to Allyson Felix: Why Faithful Fans Are Drawn to Olympians

Christian athletes testify to the gospel in competition and beyond.

“I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast,” Eric Liddell wrote in a letter to his sister Jenny before competing as a sprinter for Great Britain in the 1924 Summer Olympics.

The 1981 film Chariots of Fire (for my money, the best sports movie ever made) follows the lives of the devoutly Christian Liddell and his Jewish teammate Harold Abrahams at the Paris Games, and actor Ian Charleson, playing Liddell, intones these lines over the film’s sublime final race scene.

Liddell wins the gold medal in the 400 meters, a race that the 100-meter specialist had never run at an international competition. The son of Scottish missionaries, Liddell refused to compete in the 100 meters, which was won by his friend Abrahams, because the opening heats had been scheduled for a Sunday.

Liddell’s decision to remember the Sabbath and forgo the 100-meter competition transformed this national hero into a role model for Christians around the world. This man of remarkable talents was willing to pass up his best shot at athletic glory for the opportunity to properly honor his Lord and Savior.

Certainly, many Christians had competed in the previous modern Olympiads, but none took such a public or principled stand for his faith. Following his Olympic triumph, Liddell returned to China, where he had been born during his parents’ mission in the country. He spent much of the rest of his life in China, serving the poor and teaching the gospel.

During World War II—the last time the Olympics were called off—Liddell was taken prisoner by Japanese forces and devoted the last two years of his life ministering to his fellow inmates at the Weixian Internment Camp in Shandong Province. He died just a few …

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