Eric Liddell, the British Olympic champion who later became a missionary, has been honoured for his commitment to the Chinese people.
In a rare gesture of respect and admiration, a statue of the Christian athlete has been erected in the city of Tianjin.
It was unveiled in a ceremony attended by his daughters, as well as the survivors of a camp where he was held in the war, and the actor Joseph Fiennes who has been cast as Liddell in an upcoming film.
The Last Race
The film, called The Last Race, will focus on the latter half of Liddell’s life, when he had retired from sport and moved to China as a missionary.
It serves as an unofficial sequel to the earlier title Chariots of Fire, which depicts his unlikely gold medal win in the 400m race at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Liddell set a new 400m world record after refusing to run in the event he had trained for, the 100m, because it was to be held on the Sabbath.
At the unveiling of the statue, Joseph Fiennes spoke about Liddell, who decided to stay in China when it was invaded by the Japanese in World War Two. As a result, he was interned in a camp in Weifang.
Fiennes said: “It’s one thing to preach Bible study or whatever, but it’s another to actually live your beliefs under conditions like being in an internment camp”.
“It’s not just preaching, it’s about watching someone in a set of beliefs in extraordinary circumstances, still believing those beliefs will carry him through.”
Liddell’s daughter Patricia told The Times that she was taken aback at the statue being erected: “I find it extraordinary that a statue has been raised – the Chinese don’t really raise statues”.
She added: “My father was multi-faceted, he didn’t just appeal to religious people. He was born in China, he worked in China, he died in China.
“He’s their Olympic hero. He didn’t leave the Chinese people when the going got tough”.
Eric Liddell died from a brain tumour while living in the camp in 1945.
He had been offered a ticket out by Winston Churchill but chose to give it to a pregnant woman instead.
During his time in internment, he helped smuggle medical supplies and worked tirelessly to educate other internees.