I can still remember the first time I watched the movie Chariots of Fire in the early 1980s. Belonging to a Reformed Presbyterian denomination steeped in Scottish heritage and sabbath-keeping, I was overcome with emotion at many points in the movie. And believe me, I’m no sports fan. The only time you’ll catch me running anywhere, I’m sure it’s because something in the kitchen is burning or I got up too late for church … again.
So what captured my interest in Eric Liddell’s story? His commitment to his faith, even when it was inconvenient, gripped me throughout the movie. What I didn’t understand then, though, was that his commitment went well beyond his victories in the 1924 Olympics. Those closing words on the movie screen in Chariots of Fire shocked and saddened me when I first saw them: “Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of Word War II. All of Scotland mourned.”
Those words were an abrupt shift from the previous scene of Liddell, climbing into the back of a car, after getting off the train that brought the U.K. Olympians home, amid the cheering throngs. Those words were sobering. I felt as if the real story still needed to be told—that the 1924 Olympic Games were only a blip on the radar of Liddell’s life. There had to be a story there that was worth telling.
Turns out I was right. And I’m so glad that Eric T. Eichinger and Eva Marie Everson have decided to tell the rest of Liddell’s story in The Final Race. When Eva told me about this project last summer, I immediately preordered it on Amazon and, in the ensuing months, checked for any updates on the release date. Mid-March couldn’t get here soon enough. And, I was not disappointed.
In The Final Race, there is enough of Liddell’s early life and those Olympic victories to remind me why I still place Chariots of Fire high on my list of favorite movies. The book corrects a few of the movie’s details (which I appreciated for their own sake) and adds a few more. But it’s beyond that point in time where this book truly shines.
The writing itself yanks you in and keeps you engaged, in ways that many nonfiction books never achieve. The writing is almost lyrical in spots, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I can easily get lost in novels for hours this way, but it’s a rare nonfiction book that pulls me inside so thoroughly. I’d been waiting for this story for a long, long time.
Liddell’s story beyond those Olympic Games was not an easy one. Without blinking an eye, he gave up the fame that his amazing athletic skill (and unorthodox style) had brought him. He saw the advantage in speaking up for his faith for a time after the games, pairing up with D.P. Thomson, but he always felt missionary work in China calling him. I’m in awe of Liddell’s ability to walk away from everything he’d come to know in order to preach Christ and Him crucified in a dangerous land.
And Eichinger and Everson do his amazing story justice as they tell it to us.
I’ve waited more than thirty years to hear the rest of Eric Liddell’s story—the part of his story that gave God as much glory as Liddell’s running victories ever did. Now, with The Final Race, I learned what really became of Eric Liddell. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven and say, as I’m sure God Himself has been saying to him since 1945: Well done, thou good and faithful servant.