We all no doubt hoped that Team GB would perform well in the Olympics. But who’d have thought that we would win 29 gold medals and end up third in the medal table, just behind the sporting superpowers of China and America?
The London Olympics was a great sporting spectacle, in the words of IOC President, Jacques Rogge, a “happy and glorious games”. Who could forget witnessing (albeit on the telly) Jessica Ennis’ triumph in the heptathlon, or Mo Farrow’s double gold in the 10,000 and 5,000 metres, or Usain Bolt winning his three gold medals? Not to mention the exploits of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy, and our own Wiltshire golden boy, Ed McKeever.
The Opening Ceremony included the playing of Vangelis’ score from Chariots of Fire. The film featured the story of Eric Liddell winning the 400 metre race in the 1924 Paris Olympics. He was a 100 metre man really, but he famously withdrew from that event because the heats were on a Sunday. Liddell, a devout Christian believed that Sunday should be kept as a day of rest and worship. Inspired by the bible text, “for those who honour me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30), the athlete not only won the gold medal, but broke the world record.
What is not so well know is that after his sporting success Liddell became a missionary in China. Someone once asked him if he regretted giving up athletics for the mission field. He replied, "It's natural for a chap to think over all that sometimes, but I'm glad I'm at the work I'm engaged in now. A fellow's life counts for far more at this than the other."
But this was to be a costly commitment. When Japan invaded China in World War II, Liddell was held in an internment camp, where conditions were harsh. The former athlete gave himself to helping those in need. In a prisoner exchange negotiated between the British and Japanese, Liddell was given an opportunity to leave he camp, but he gave up his place to a pregnant woman. Shortly afterwards he died of a brain tumour. His condition was probably exacerbated overwork and malnutrition.
Liddell’s act of costly sacrifice reminds us of the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down his life to bring us back to God. For Eric Liddell the joy of knowing and serving Jesus was worth more than gold.
* For September's News & Views, West Lavingon Parish Magazine.