In an article from “The Student” (the Edinburgh University Students Association magazine) A.W.M. writes about the beginnings of Eric Liddell’s athletics and rugby careers.
When that versatile athlete, Dr W.L. Hunter, departed from the scene of his many triumphs, many of us thought that the athletic sun of Craiglockhart had set, and few who saw Liddell running at the University Sports on the 28th May 1921, when he won the 100(yards) in 10 2/5 (secs), narrowly lost the 220 (yards), and was a member of the winning Relay team, realised that a new luminary of the first magnitude had appeared in the firmament, besides which the glory of Hunter should pale in its fire. His running in the Inter-University Sports and other athletic meetings of that year began to make us realise that he was no ordinary runner. In the following winter his thrilling performances for the University Rugby XV, as a centre three-quarter were the sensation of the season, and led to his playing as wing in all the Internationals of that year except against England, in which, owing to an injury sustained in a friendly match, he was, although chosen, unable to take his place.
Passing over his performance on the track in 1922 – he was unable to go South for the A.A.A Championships- we find him again playing for Scotland in all the Rugby Internationals. His five tries in the final trial (following five tries in the penultimate one) is still a vivid memory. At the A.A.A Meeting of 1922 he not only won the 220 (yards) but also set up a new British record for the 100 (yards). Thereafter, in the Triangular International at Stoke he won the 100, the 220(yards) and the quarter (mile)- the last a sensational race. “The circumstances” – said the Scotsman- “in which he won the 440 (yards) event made it a performance bordering on the miraculous. Veterans, whose memories take them back thirty-five years, and in some cases even longer, in the history of athletics, were unanimous in the opinion that Liddell’s win in the quarter mile was the greatest ever track performance that they had ever seen. The runners were started on the bend, Liddell having the inside berth, but the Scot had only taken three strides when Gillis, England, crashed into him and knocked him off the track. He stumbled on the grass, and for a moment seemed half inclined to give up. Then suddenly he sprang forward, and was after his opponents in a flash. By this time the leaders were twenty yards ahead, but Liddell gradually drew up on them, and by the time the home straight was reached he was running fourth. He would be about ten yards behind Gillis then. It seemed out of the question he would win, but he achieved the apparently impossible. Forty yards from home he was third and seemed on the point of collapsing, but pulling himself together he put in a desperate finish to win two yards from Gillis.”
In the winter of 1923-24 he retired from Rugby football to prepare for the Olympic Games. Devoting himself chiefly to the quarter-mile, he won the race at the A.A.A Championships, and followed up that success by a brilliant victory at the Olympic Games, winning the quarter in record time, after making his own pace throughout. There is no space to allude to various other sensational performances after his Olympic success.
Diverse opinions have been expressed regarding Liddell’s prowess on the (Rugby) football field, and he has not escaped the criticism that pursues every player of exceptional speed of being more a sprinter than a footballer. One charge, at any rate, which has been levelled at some sprinters has never been made against Liddell- that of funking a tackle. In general, I cannot do better than quote his “character” as a footballer given in THE STUDENT of 2nd June 1922: – “E.H.Liddell has the rare combination of pace and the gift of Rugby brains and hands. Making openings, snaps opportunities, gives the ‘dummy’ to perfection, does the work of three (if necessary) in defence, and carries unselfishness to a fault. Experience should make him as great a player as he is a sprinter.”
Success in athletics sufficient to turn the head of an ordinary man has left Liddell absolutely unspoilt, and his modesty is entirely genuine and unaffected. He has taken his triumph in his stride, as it were, and never made any sort of fuss. What he has thought it right to do, that he has done, looking neither to the left nor to the right, and yielding not one jot or tittle of principle either to court applause or to placate criticism. Courteous and affable, he is utterly free from “gush.” Devoted to his principles, he is without a touch of Pharisaism. The best that can be said of any student is that he has left the fame of his University fairer than he found it, and his grateful Alma mater is proud to recognise that to no man does that praise more certainly belong than to Eric Henry Liddell.