Exhibition honors China-born Scottish Olympic champion Liddell
Published: Jun 02, 2024 10:42 PM
Photo: British embassy in Beijing

Photo: British embassy in Beijing

An exhibition commemorating Scottish Olympic champion Eric Liddell opened on Saturday at the Tianjin Sports Museum in North China's Tianjin Municipality, as 2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the Tianjin-born athlete's victory at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Known as the "Flying Scotsman," Liddell, who is known in China as Li Airui, was born in Tianjin in 1902 to Scottish missionary parents. He moved to Scotland with his family at the age of 5. 

Liddell's exceptional athletic talent led him to win gold in the men's 400 meters at the 1924 Paris Olympics, setting a new world record at the time. His story was later immortalized in the ­Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.

After the Olympics, Liddell graduated from the University of Edinburgh and returned to China, where he became a chemistry teacher at the Anglo-Chinese College in Tianjin (now Tianjin No.17 Middle School). 

Over nearly two decades, Liddell devoted himself to nurturing talent and promoting physical education. He organized various events and was responsible for several sports teams, significantly contributing to the local community. 

In 1926, Liddell assumed an advisory role in the renovation of the Minyuan Stadium in Tianjin, which was modeled after London's iconic Stamford Bridge Stadium. The venue has been transformed into Minyuan Square, a popular spot for locals and tourists who enjoy summer activities and photography.

During the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, Liddell sent his pregnant wife and two daughters to Canada but chose to remain in China. He was later interned in the Weifang concentration camp in East China's Shandong Province, where he continued to inspire and educate despite the harsh conditions. Liddell passed away in the camp in 1945 at the age of 43 due to a brain tumor.

Tianjin Sports Bureau Deputy Director Li Shan, a former 2004 Olympic champion in volleyball, called Liddell a "true ambassador." 

"Liddell is one of Scotland's most celebrated athletes. After his Olympic triumph, he returned to Tianjin and dedicated his life to China. He was a true ambassador of the Olympic spirit and China-UK friendship," Li said. 

"During Liddell's time, hosting the Olympics was a distant dream for China. Today, this dream has been realized with the successful Summer Olympics in 2008 and the Winter Olympics in 2022. This exhibition honors Liddell's legacy and the deep friendship between our peoples."

Angus Robertson, the Scottish government's cabinet secretary for external affairs, culture, and constitution, praised Liddell's enduring influence. 

"Liddell is an iconic figure in Scotland with a deep connection to China where he spent much of his life. We remember his legacy as a sportsman and teacher whose compassion, integrity and passion are as relevant now as they were 100 years ago. I hope we can draw on these values and keep building on our connections in the years to come."

Catriona Radcliffe, head of the Scottish Government Office in China, said, "Liddell's achievements and legacy in sport and education have inspired generations. This centenary is an opportunity to celebrate our shared history and values."

The exhibition is set to run until June 30.