Eric Liddell 100: Centenary celebrations announced for Edinburgh sporting legend immortalised in Chariots of Fire

A major programme of activities to honour the legacy of Eric Liddell, the world famous Olympian from Edinburgh immortalised in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, has been announced.

Launching The Eric Liddell 100, a large group of individuals and organisations representing excellence in their fields are now engaged in three strategic steering groups – sport, education and culture – to work with John MacMillan, CEO of The Eric Liddell Community, an Edinburgh-based charity established in his name in 1980.

The major events will secure and celebrate the legacy of Liddell and mark the centenary of his epic record-breaking 400 metres win at the 1924 Paris’ Olympic Games, which are also to be held in Paris in 2024.

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The three task forces working with John MacMillan will create a major campaign which will run up until the centenary and beyond to ensure that Eric’s life, sporting achievements and community service are celebrated in 2024 and his legacy will live on for future generations.

Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, with John MacMillan, CEO, The Eric Liddell Community, with the statue of Eric Liddell at Edinburgh University.

“John MacMillan said: “While best known for his sporting prowess, Eric was also known as a compassionate, multifaceted man, who embraced life and encouraged, empowered and enabled others to get the most out of their lives.

“I believe that as CEO of an organisation that felt so strongly about Eric Liddell that a charity was established in his name, I have a duty to ensure that his life, sporting achievements and community service are remembered and valued.

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“I am however, not embarking on this project alone and am delighted that Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has agreed to be its Patron.”

Whilst the centenary of Liddell’s gold medal win on 12th July 1924 provides an important marker and an opportunity to recognise and celebrate his achievements, the intention is to launch and sustain the work of The Eric Liddell 100 up to and beyond this date.

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Gemma Burton holding two of Eric Liddell’s Olympic medals with (far left) Colin Hutchison, CEO, Scottish Athletics holding with the award given to commemorate Eric as the first inductee of the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, (left) Kieron Achara, former Olympic basketball player and broadcaster holds commemoration of Eric’s induction into the Scottish Rugby’s Hall of Fame. On Gemma’s right is Graham Law, Senior Corporate Affairs and Stakeholder Manager at Scottish Rugby holding Eric Liddell’s reissued Scottish International rugby cap and far right is John MacMillan, CEO, The Eric Liddell Community.

As part of this, Olympic silver medallist and teacher Gemma Burton has been seconded to develop a cross cutting school curriculum, that has a focus Liddell’s life and achievements.

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Mr MacMillan added: “I have had fantastic support from Eric Liddell’s family, The Eric Liddell Community Board, Scottish Rugby, Scottish Athletics and the University of Edinburgh – all organisations have strong links with Eric Liddell.

“We have also had many other supporters already joining us from the business, education and cultural sectors in Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally. I feel honoured by the calibre of the people and organisations which have joined or pledged allegiance to the project”

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Colin Hutchison, CEO of Scottish Athletics, said: “2024 provides an ideal opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Eric Liddell’s iconic 400m gold medal win at the 1924 Paris Olympics. His sporting achievements along with inspiring life story, made Eric Liddell a sporting hero to be remembered and cherished.”

From a Scottish family, although born in China where his parents were missionaries, Eric attended Edinburgh University and was chosen to represent Scotland in international rugby.

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Graham Law, senior corporate affairs and stakeholder manager at Scottish Rugby, said: “Eric Liddell was best known for his athletics success, but he was also one of Scotland’s great rugby players, winning seven caps for his country.

“To mark his contribution both on and off the pitch, Eric was inducted into Scottish Rugby’s Hall of Fame on the 100th anniversary of his first cap earlier this year. As someone who epitomised the values of our game, Scottish Rugby is delighted to support The Eric Liddell 100.”

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Kieron Achara, former Olympic basketball player and broadcaster, said: “The story of Eric Liddell’s life and achievements is as relevant and inspiring today as it was one hundred years ago. I am pleased to support the programme to celebrate this Scottish sporting icon.”

The University of Edinburgh is the keeper of Liddell’s sporting medals and also has a statue of its famous student on display in the reception of Old College.

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Professor Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Eric Liddell was an early example of a University scholar who was equally dedicated to his degree studies in Pure Science, and the pursuit of sporting excellence in both athletics and rugby.

“His legacy at the University continues today, with a gym dedicated to his memory, sports scholarships in his name and as the first inductee into our much-heralded Sports Hall of Fame.

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“We are delighted to support The Eric Liddell 100 to ensure the remarkable story of his life is available for future generations.”

One of the ways Liddell’s life will be celebrated is to establish a commemorative exhibition showcasing his life – including his inspritational work in China where his memory is preserved, particularly at a rural mission station in Xiaozhang which served the poor.

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He took up post there in 1941 and remained until his untimely death 1945 at the age of 43..

Andrew Kerr OBE, Chief of City of Edinburgh Council, said: “Edinburgh has strong links with Eric Liddell as the location of his family home and is where he studied, worked and competed in sports.

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“The Eric Liddell Community is also based in Edinburgh and we are pleased to be working with the charity and other partners to recognise and celebrate Eric’s achievements and values.

Sally Magnusson, broadcaster and writer, said: “Through the research I did in the early 1980s for “The Flying Scotsman”, my biography of Eric Liddell, I was privileged to meet many of Eric’s family and peers.

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“They gave me an unforgettable insight into qualities that had not for a moment faded from their memories. This is a man who deserves to be known again.”

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