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Thought for the weekend: Hero of 1924 Games a role model for Christians today

By Fr Patrick McCafferty: Parish of Kilmore and Killyleagh, Co Down

Published 06/08/2016

It's hard to believe that the Olympic Games are here again. Memories of London 2012 are still very much in our minds but the Rio games have now begun and over the next two weeks an international array of competitors will be gracing our television screens.

Who would you say is the greatest Olympian of all time? That is a difficult question to answer because none of us have a full grasp of everyone who has ever competed, nor do we remember all the Games.

However, there are obvious candidates. Let me name a few - Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens, Steve Redgrave, Mark Spitz, Usain Bolt. For me the greatest Olympian is Eric Liddell. Liddell, a Scot, was born in China of missionary parents in 1902 and was selected to be part of the Great Britain Athletics Team for the 1924 Games in Paris.

He was highly regarded as an accomplished sportsman (he had represented Scotland at rugby) and many felt that he could win the gold medal in the 100 metres.

However, Eric Liddell was a committed Christian who had a strong personal faith in Jesus Christ and, as such, when the heats of the 100 metres events were organised for a Sunday (the Christian Sabbath) Liddell withdrew from the competition.

Many were dismayed by his decision feeling that he had let his country down but for Liddell the matter was straightforward - Jesus first, everything else second.

Instead, he began training for the 400 metres event. On the morning of the 400 metres final someone slipped him a piece of paper on which were written these words from 1 Samuel 2:30 - "In the old book it says: 'He that honours me I will honour'". Remarkably Liddell won the gold medal.

On completing his studies at Edinburgh University Liddell returned to China, the land of his birth, where he became a missionary.

Sadly, Liddell was interned by the Japanese along with many of his missionary colleagues and it was in the Weihsien Internment Camp that he died on February, 21, 1945. He was 43.

Why is he my Olympic hero? Well obviously he was an accomplished athlete and obtained a gold medal for Team GB but more than that, Liddell shows us that faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest thing ever.

He challenges those of us who have this faith to ALWAYS put Jesus first.

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