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Paris 1924


Liddell legend is born in Paris

Liddell legend is born in Paris


Of all the Olympic gold medals won over the years, few have been as well documented, chronicled and dramatised quite like Eric Liddell’s.


Liddell was the devout Christian who refused to run his preferred 100m because one of the qualifying rounds fell on the Sabbath, and instead went on to secure a gold medal in the lung-bursting 400m.

Made famous by the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire, the Scot’s story is indeed a beautiful one at odds, however, with his running style.

Purists describe him as an ugly mover, with his head tilted skywards, his hands clawing through the air and his feet pattering at tremendous speeds.

Unlike the famed scene in Chariots of Fire, the schedule for the men’s sprint was announced several months before the Paris Games and once Liddell decided he could not run, he trained instead for the 200m and 400m.

He won a bronze medal in the 200m, with team mate and 100m champion Harold Abrahams back in fifth, and was faced with the 400m qualifying round the following day.

Some had derided Liddell’s decision not to run on a Sunday but it was reported that an American team member handed him a piece of paper shortly before the race. Written upon it were the words "Those who honour me I will honour."

Many felt Liddell’s tactics in the final bordered on the suicidal.

The 400m was considered almost a middle distance race in those days and the terrific speeds Liddell set off at in the final surprised the field and watchers alike.

Surely his stamina would fade in the closing stages and allow the more fancied Americans and even team mate Guy Butler to come through?

Somehow Liddell retained his form and focus and while other competitors fell in the trail of the searing pace he set, he managed to cross the line in an Olympic record of 47.6 seconds which would stand until the Berlin Games 12 years later.

Liddell was hoisted aloft before cheering crowds on the streets of Edinburgh. He later returned to the country of his birth, China, to continue his work as a missionary.

He would die of a brain tumour in a Japanese internment camp during the final year of the Second World War.

Discover the best photos of Paris 1924

  • Johnny Weissmuller (USA)

    A part of Hollywood legend for his role as Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was nonetheless an accomplished swimmer. At the Paris 1924 Games, he won gold in the 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay. We see him here after his 400m freestyle surrounded by his fellow medal-winners, Sweden’s Arne Borg (2nd, on the right) and the USA’s Andrew Charlton (3rd, on the left)

  • Paavo Nurmi (FIN)

    Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals at the Paris 1924 Games. He won the individual cross country, team cross country, the 1500m, 5000m and the team 3000m events. On 10 July 1924, he won the 1500m before victoriously taking gold, 55 minutes later (!) in the 5000m


  • Winner’s medal Paris 1924

    The reverse of the medal is occupied by the representation of an athlete helping one of his opponents to stand. This motif thus perfectly illustrates the solidarity that we expect from any athletes taking part in the Olympic Games. Besides this, the Olympic rings appear for the first time on a medal (they are visible here on the upper part of the medal)

  • Liddell Chaired

    18th July 1924: Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945), winner of the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics, is paraded around Edinburgh University after his victory. He was known as the 'Flying Scotsman' and was immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire. (Photo by Firmin/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • Liddell Triumphant

    18th July 1924: Scottish athlete Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945) is paraded around Edinburgh University after winning the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite t

  • Eric Liddell

    Scottish athlete and missionary, Eric Henry Liddell (1902 -1945) being carried round the streets after his Olympic victory. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite to win the 100 metres race but refused to run because he felt that running on a Sunday conflicted with his Christian beliefs. He won a bronze medal in the 200 metres event instead and then ran the 400 metre race despite having little experience at the distance. He not only won the gold medal but broke the world record by completing the race in 47.6 seconds, an achievement which is celebrated in the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'. Liddell gained two degrees, one in science and the other in divinity, before leaving Britain to work as a Scottish Congregational Church missionary in China as his parents had before him. Original Publication: People Disc - HG0205 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)